We had the opportunity to attend Microsoft's developer conference Build, held from May 7th till 9th 2018 at the Seattle Convention Center in Seattle. Attendance with over 7k attendees, and a large global representation of the press colleagues makes this one of the best attended events from an influencer perspective. 




Prefer to watch – here is my event video … (if the video doesn't' show up – check here):

Here is the 1 slide condensation (if the slide doesn't show up, check here): 

Want to read on? Here you go:

Big push on IoT. IoT got a lot of keynote time across Nadella and Guthrie, Microsoft is pushing big on the IoT edge with its offering Intelligent Edge for IoT, where it can deploy a subset of its capabilities, in similar way like Azure Stack. It might be even that both capabilities share similar product features. For enterprises to be able to deploy the same code – e.g. for analytics, on Azure as well as IoT edge is an interesting product strategy and roadmap. Microsoft also announced support for Cloud Events, the CNCF Event Grid project, it's the only public cloud vendor at the moment to be able to consume and produce events. That matters as it can make Azure the preferred cloud for evend driven computing. Certainly the other IaaS players will not rest, and may well come up with the ability to product / publish events. We will have to see if this big push pays off on the next quarters. 

Microsoft Build 2018 - Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Nadella opens Build 2018
AI getting ready. Microsoft has a long history investing into AI, this Build conference was the culmination of that effort. In general, the vendor has adopted neural networks now, offering a collection of 25+ machine learning services, that can be easily consumed. The race is on to make every developer a data scientist, and Microsoft has tied the competition now – both on an algorithm and ease of adoption level. On the partnership side, Microsoft confirmed the progress on project Brainwave, as well as ONNX. Both are initiatives aimed at interoperability of ML algorithms and the desire to catch up to Google. The most prominent members are AWS, Facebook and Microsoft. Good to see the progress, but adoption vs. the popular Google Tensorflow will be the real test. Interestingly, the Windows ML capability that powers Windows intelligence processes, is as well ONNX based. That's a key step, to potentially open Windows ML / AI capabilities to ONNX build models. Microsoft also announced the availability of its FPGA infrastructure. Announced a few years ago, Microsoft reported in September 2016 (see here), at Ignite, that most of its Azure servers now have a FPGA. Not sure what took 1.5 years, but good for Microsoft to be here today. 
Microsoft Build 2018 - Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Nadella and the two Microsoft platforms: Azure and Microsoft 365

Windows with Innovation. The 2018 edition of Build marked the first time that Microsoft did not have a Windows keynote at Build. I have previously voiced my concern on the way how Microsoft split up Windows (see here), the job at Build for the most Windows messaging was with Microsoft veteran Joe Belfiore in the Tuesday keynote (as part of the Modern Worklplace keynote). And Microsoft has done a lot in Windows, especially in the April Update. The underlying magic sauce remains the Microsoft Graph, the ephemeral graph of users, their devices, and their digital assets. It was good to see the Graph in action as part of the developer demo. The new Timeline feature is an interesting innovation and making Windows a human operating system. Humans don't think in file and folder structures, but in time, so being able to get back to a document a user created last week – by the time and not by the folder is a key step to make the working with Windows more human. The same principles apply to the new Sets capabilities, which bring together browser assets as well as Win32 assets – all neatly in tabs next to each other. It's a key step to make Windows more of a workspace – than a collection of apps and files. Both Sets and Timeline are a key innovation with integrative DNA, bringing capabilities together that previously had to be take care of manually, through navigation by the Windows user – a change for the better. Lastly all these capabilities need intelligence, and Microsoft added Windows ML, the ability to run ONNX models. That's a nice compatibility move for the overall Microsoft AI / ML strategy – and gives ML developers an instant, huge install base. Smart move.

Microsoft Build 2018 - Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Belfiore opens the Day #2 Keynote

Azure with Innovation. Azure captured the post Nadella keynote spot, that Scott Guthrie executed in his usual reliable fashion. Kudos to Guthrie with the best keynote punchline at Build ("Let me add value" – when holding a microphone). Apart from more data centers, location and the above-mentioned Event Grid (that runs on Azure Service Fabric) the key attraction for enterprises in Azure remain Cosmos DB. Debuted last year, on the assets of the former DocumentDB, Cosmos DB is what powers the Microsoft Graph (my stipulation, never confirmed by Microsoft to my knowledge) and as such is a super powerful, distributed database, that runs in pretty much all Azure data centers. The synergies of Microsoft opening datacenters for Office, that requires Graph, that requires CosmosDB are at full work. If a CxO decides to build on CosmosDB it's highly likely it will be, in the latest version, in all Azure data centers. Adding the 5 9s to read and write reliability is an amazing SLA for next gen applications. 

Microsoft Build 2018 - Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Guthrie adds value (joke) w Hanselmann

Visual Studio gets more team support. Always good to see Microsoft's continued innovation in Visual Studio, it's Microsoft's premier IDE… and a key reason why developers attend Azure. More team and group support are coming, as well as more comprehensive DevOps support. All good progress coupled with former investments in Xamarin and more. The main concern remains the lack of a packaged PaaS offering from Microsoft, I asked Guthrie if that is coming, and it doesn't seem to be in the plans for the next 12 months. And with that Microsoft misses the opportunity to be the partner of the CIO / CTO who needs to build and deliver a next gen application – from the requirements collection all the way to device management. Microsoft has many of the required pieces, but the need to get stitched together on a project level – something which is additional, and if done incorrectly, risky work. CxOs want that from a vendor, not to be a task for their development teams.
Microsoft Build 2018 - Holger Mueller Constellation Research
Visual Studio Dashboard - can a developer portal look so good?



Another good Build conference for Microsoft, with almost too many announcements and progress across the board. The biggest impact is likely the AI push, that (finally) has moved to the new gold standard, neural networks (not just in pockets, but across the board). Good to see the FPGA feature getting delivered, but when compared to the hardware innovation of Google, it is slow progress, maybe even too slow delivery here. Between the announcement and delivery of the FPGA capability of Microsoft, Google has been comfortable to announce TPU 3.0 in the same week, an 8x improvement over the TPU 2.0 pods. Microsoft needs to move faster here, as next to data gravity, we are seeing a new gravity emerge, the one of the custom ML hardware, that is faster and cheaper than the competition to create and operate neural networks, powered by deep learning networks (DLN). Microsoft is not alone in the dilemma, its Seattle neighbor AWS has the same challenge here (a likely driver for Project Brainwave in in my POV. The cost of crating and running AI / ML is a key consideration of future next gen App deployments. Finishing the concern section, Microsoft, as the top three cloud vendor with the deepest enterprise roots and access, needs a better PaaS strategy to attract enterprises and their next generation application load. A partnership with CloudFoundry is not enough. An end to end, packaged PaaS suite that takes advantage of all the fast growing capabilities of Azure, AI, ML and more is what enterprises want and expect from Microsoft.

It's too early to say what will happen with the new Windows setup, I learnt positive aspects of the move, but my concerns remain intact at this early point after the announcement, future will tell. What is certainly true is that the elimination of Windows from a nominal platform perspective makes the overall Microsoft platform message simpler. It's now Azure and Microsoft 365 (Windows part of the latter). Compared to e.g. 5 years ago - where it was Windows, Azure and Office.

On the bright side, Azure service fabric, the push on IoT, the edge capabilities, Azure Stack, Cosmos DB are all valid differentiators for Microsoft and CxOs are paying attention to them. And the direction where Windows is heading, also based on a private conversation with Belfiore, towards a more human Windows, that brings together work artefacts in a better way, are all positive takeaways and differentiator. Now let's see what happens in the next months of 2018… stay tuned.