10 Big Microsoft Azure Announcements At Ignite Fall 2021

By Wade Tyler Millward

Microsoft is announcing updates for cloud solutions including Azure Arc, Azure Active Directory, Azure Synapse, Azure Cognitive Services and Azure SQL during the second virtual edition of the Ignite conference this year.

The Latest From Microsoft Azure

Expanded security features in Azure Active Directory, more ways to use Azure Arc to build applications in any environment and improved tools for Azure-related migrations and data analytics are among the upgrades Microsoft revealed this week during its Ignite virtual conference for fall 2021.

At Ignite, Microsoft’s conference for developers and IT professionals, tech giant is unveiling new and improved capabilities around databases, artificial intelligence, developer tools, security and other solutions that are part of the Azure cloud platform.

“With the Microsoft Cloud, we strive to provide the most trusted and comprehensive cloud to make this innovation and transformation happen,” said Kathleen Mitford, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Azure Marketing, in a blog post Tuesday. “That’s why organizations of all types — from small businesses, governments, and non-profits to Fortune 500 companies — trust Microsoft as their technology provider.”

Kelly Yeh, president of Chantilly, Va.-based Microsoft partner Phalanx Technology Group, told CRN in an interview that his clients continue to seek migration work from on-premises to Azure.

He and his customers like Azure’s capabilities, Yeh said. But as Microsoft continues to invest in the cloud, he wants to see improvements in controlling security policies. More templates to make implementing best practices easy and cost effective or even a simplified view of all policies in a security operation center (SOC) interface would be welcome additions, he said.

“If they had something like that, that‘d be sweet,” he said. “It would make it super easy to implement in a very secure Azure environment. They do have security systems and security add-ons, but it’s not as cookie cutter as they could make it.”

This week’s conference is the second edition of Microsoft Ignite this year, with the company previously holding a virtual Ignite 2021 conference in March.

What follows are 10 big Microsoft Azure announcements to know about at Microsoft’s Ignite fall 2021 conference.

Azure AI Updates

As part of a group of updates to Azure related to artificial intelligence (AI), Microsoft Azure Cognitive Search gained support for more than 50 languages for select users.

The tech giant launched updates to its Azure Cognitive Services suite, including invitation-only access to OpenAI’s GPT-3 models for security, compliance and other enterprise capabilities on Azure, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft now offers a commitment tier pricing model for the suite for more predictable costs for high-volume users instead of the current pay-as-you-go model. Microsoft will also give discounts to customers that make regular payments upfront for a set capacity, according to the company.

And Azure Cognitive Service for Language puts various language capabilities in one place, consolidating capabilities previously available in Language Understanding, QnA Maker and Text Analytics.

New Data Features

Microsoft has made various updates to Azure’s capabilities for databases and data analytics. One update includes new features for Azure Cosmos DB with the goal of making Apache Cassandra data migration easier, according to the company.

To accomplish this, Azure Managed Instance for Apache Cassandra is now generally available, with an automatic synchronization feature to allow hybrid data running in the cloud and on-premises, according to Microsoft.

All Azure Advisor users can now create alerts for throughput spending limits to control spending, according to Microsoft.

In terms of updates for Azure Synapse Analytics, a set of industry-specific database templates in the studio experience is now in preview. So far, templates for retail, consumer packaged foods and financial services industry are in preview, according to the company.

Also in preview are telemetry, time series and log data real-time analytics in Azure Synapse through a new data explorer capability. The capability gives users a dedicated query engine built for log and time series data workloads.

More Capabilities For Analytics, Databases

Now generally available is Azure Synapse’s Event Hubs Premium feature, which allows users more predictability for mission-critical data streaming workloads. New resources aim to minimize cross-tenant interference in a managed multi-tenant platform-as-a-service environment, according to Microsoft.

A new deployment option for Azure Database’s fully managed database services for MySQL and PostgreSQL will be generally available this month, according to Microsoft. The Flexible Server deployment option aims to prevent data loss, optimize costs and increase productivity in Azure.

Azure SQL Managed Instance has new performance and security features. Generally available is increased storage to 16 TB on the general purpose tier. An increase in storage on the business critical service tier is in preview, according to the company.

Also in preview is a feature to connect SQL servers to Azure SQL Managed Instance, no matter where the servers are hosted. Users can migrate between SQL Server 2022 and fully managed SQL Managed Instance, according to th company.

SQL Server 2022 is in gated preview. It integrates with Synapse Link and Azure Purview for more predictions and data governance at scale. Users can choose their languages and platforms, including Linux, Windows and Kubernetes.

Developer Tool Improvements

Among the updates to Azure tools and features aimed at developers is a preview later this month of the Azure Communication Services SMS short codes.

With the goal of improving the experience of multi-platform users, the new short code functionality aims to unlock high message volume delivery for businesses, helpful for two-factor authentication, promotional campaigns, appointment reminders and other use cases, according to Microsoft.

Azure Communication Services interoperability with Microsoft Teams will become available to all in December. Developers will have new abilities to streamline voice, video and chat between users on custom-built applications, websites and Teams.

Microsoft launched a preview of a fully managed, serverless container service for microservices that scales based on internet traffic, events and long-running background jobs. The service, called Azure Container Apps, aims to allow developers to build and deploy containerized applications without a complex infrastructure.

Now generally available for Azure Logic Apps Standard users is managed identity support for various built-in operations and connectors. New updates in preview for the tool include running Logic Apps on Azure Arc to avoid Azure storage dependencies, an ability to connect to enterprise-grade, vNET-enabled connectors and automation tasks for event replication at scale for business continuity and disaster recovery for Event Hub and Service Bus.

Azure Service Bus large message support is now generally available, giving users support for sending and receiving 100 MB payloads, an increase from the previous 1 MB limit for premium-tier namespaces.

Azure Web PubSub will become generally available in December to support real-time client and server connections at scale, according to Microsoft.

Azure Marketplace offers new solutions for running Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) applications on Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS) and Azure Red Hat OpenShift (ARO).

AKS also gained a solution for Oracle WebLogic Server and IBM WebSphere Liberty and its open source version, Open Liberty. ARO also gained the same IBM WebSphere solution. An Open Service Mesh add-on for AKS is now generally available.

Updates to the Azure DevOps services suite include general availability of the free DevOps Workflow Generator tool to allow users to visualize the entire DevOps toolchain. A preview of an OpenID Connect integration between Azure Active Directory and GitHub Actions aims to eliminate management of long-lived cloud credentials in GitHub’s secret store and it aims to prevent downtime due to expired credentials, according to Microsoft.

Azure API Management updates include general availability of an integration with Azure Event Grid for uses including email notifications each time users are added plus general availability of WebSocket API native support. In preview is GraphQL passthrough support, according to Microsoft.

More Hyperconverged Capabilities

Microsoft has updated its Azure Stack HCI system for hyperconverged infrastructure to allow GPU for AI and machine learning, soft kernel reboot, thin provisioning and other infrastructure level capabilities. Management-level updates include virtual machine creation and management from the Azure portal. And server core security is now in all Azure Stack HCI integrated systems.

A new Azure Stack HCI partner program offers users new validated solutions from independent software vendors and services from partners.

Azure Arc has new features for select users, including native integration with Azure Stack HCI, new integration with VMware vSphere and a simplifie, fully managed machine learning add-on on Arc-enabled Kubernetes, which supports Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services Kubernetes clusters.

Microsoft has launched a preview of Azure Virtual Desktop for Azure Stack HCI and a new autoscale feature for AVD to schedule session host starts and stops.

Azure Automanage updates include a preview of custom configuration profiles for Windows Server and Linux virtual machines and support for Azure Arc-enabled server virtual machines. Generally available updates for Azure Automanage for Windows Service include extended network for Azure and an ability to securely access new file servers remotely over untrusted networks without a virtual private network.

Infrastructure Features Enhanced

General availability of Azure Virtual Machine Scale Sets flexible orchestration mode is among the updates for Azure’s infrastructure related features and tools.

Microsoft has also made generally available Dv5 and Ev5 Azure Virtual Machine and new Dav5 and Eav5 Azure VMs. A preview of Ebs v5 Azure VM is expected in the future.

Another generally available feature is a new VMs selector feature for users to specify workload, technical specifications, region and other categories.

Generally available updates to Azure Monitor include EventHub integration for network isolation alerts and enhanced troubleshooting for Azure Firewall and VPN Gateway. A preview is now available of OpenTelemetry support in application insights.

Azure Disk Storage has a generally available update for on-demand disk bursting for Azure Premium solid-state drives.

Upgrades To Networking Tools

Microsoft unveiled updates and new tools to improve Azure’s networking capabilities. Among the updates is a preview of Azure Gateway Load Balancer, a fully managed service meant to improve network virtual appliance access.

The tech giant has made Azure Network Function Manager generally available. This tool allows users to enable private LTE and 5G solutions through pre-validated mobile network functions.

A preview of Azure Virtual Network manager allows select users to manage virtual networks across subscriptions while scaling cloud workloads, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft has made new Azure ExpressRoute features generally available, including IPv6 support for private peering, more ciphers and functionalities in MACsec and new support for virtual network peering through the FastPath feature.

Azure Bastion Standard SKU is generally available as a fully managed “jumpbox-as-a-service” for remote VM connectivity, Microsoft said. Application Gateway WAF will soon have a new engine to improve performance, and Azure Front Door WAF will gain a new ruleset for anomaly scoring and first-party managed enhanced security rules.

Azure Chaos Studio

Microsoft has launched a preview of Azure Chaos Studio, an experimentation platform to help users improve application resilience.

Chaos Studio users can disrupt apps intentionally with network latency, unexpected storage outages, secrets expiration, full data center outage and other real-world events to find gaps and plan mitigations before issues affect app users.

The platform offers a library of faults due to agents or services plus continuous validation to monitor production quality.

Azure Active Directory Updates

At Ignite, Microsoft unveiled a preview of an expanded Identity Governance feature in Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), allowing select identity administrators to unify identity and access lifecycle management across all applications.

Azure AD has a new preview for the ability to migrate more applications from Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS). The update aims to simplify how administrators manage identity and access for more application types, according to Microsoft.

The tool’s Conditional Access policies now include new granular access controls with a device filter, a new dashboard and other features.

Azure AD Identity Protection now includes token theft detection and one-click enablement for risk data extensibility, among other features, according to Microsoft.

Azure Migration And Modernization Program Expansion

The Azure Migration and Modernization Program, or AMMP, gained new support for security, Azure Arc, SAP environment migrations to Azure and Red Hat OpenShift environment migration to Azure as part of Microsoft’s investments this year to simplify Azure migration.

AMMP has provided support to thousands of customers around applications, infrastructure and data, according to Microsoft. The expansion includes new assistance and guidance for Azure Security Center, Azure Defender and Azure Arc deployment.

AMMP is the renamed Azure Migration Program that provides customers guidance and best practices for migrating to the cloud. AMMP received new support for Azure Spring Cloud and Azure Cosmos DB in the summer, according to Microsoft.