ATLANTA—At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie, executive vice president for cloud and enterprise, explained that the company wants IT professionals to feel empowered and digitally transform their organizations. Accordingly, Microsoft is focusing on three areas to do this: security, intelligence, and the cloud.
The company announced a range of new security and data analytics features designed to make Windows, Office 365, and Azure run better. More importantly, they were designed, at least in part, to specifically make Windows 10 the safest, most secure place to work. Microsoft may be offering its software on more platforms than before, but while you don’t have to use Windows, the company is suggesting you probably should.
The strongest example of this was the integration of Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection (WDATP), which uses big data analysis to detect suspicious behavioral patterns that indicate a hacker or other security issue, and Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), which works to trap malicious URLs and attachments.
This integration will mean that WDATP will tell O365 ATP about new malware it has detected, enabling Office 365 to detect and remove that same malware if it’s found in any inboxes. This will be in preview from early 2017.
Office 365 ATP is also being extended. It will perform “URL detonation,” wherein a Microsoft system will attempt to visit any suspicious looking URL from within a cloud-based sandbox and then monitor to see if the URL performs any malicious redirections or tries to run any malware. Rolling out to customers now is a new ability to deliver e-mails even before any attachments belonging to those e-mails have been fully scanned using “dynamic delivery.” While the scan is ongoing, a placeholder will be sent instead of an attachment, with the attachment coming through later.
Protection is also being expanded beyond Outlook and Exchange. Due to be available in preview from early next year, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint will all participate in O365 ATP.
These capabilities aren’t part of on-premises Exchange systems, and WDATP requires the use of Windows 10 with the Anniversary Update. In the early days of Office 365, there was little advantage to using it aside from the fact that it meant not having to run your own Exchange server. But with that core functionality nailed, Microsoft is moving beyond this, working to make its cloud service strictly superior to the on-premises version.
In a similar vein, Office 365 Threat Intelligence, available in the first quarter of 2017, will analyze data from Windows, Azure, and Office 365 to alert organizations to threats that are being seen globally. This will allow Microsoft to discover that, for example, financial institutions are seeing particular kinds of attacks. Microsoft could then provide warnings to other financial institutions about the attacks and what possible countermeasures should be deployed against them.
The data collection from Windows and online services has come under fire from privacy advocates, but it does enable a level of monitoring and analysis on a scale that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. With 400 million monthly active Windows 10 devices, Microsoft has a large body of information about what normal and abnormal system behavior looks like and what the tell-tale signs of malware infections and hacks are.
As well as data analysis on a global basis, Microsoft is heavily promoting the use of “intelligence” for business data. “Microsoft Graph” links all your contacts, e-mails, documents, and more. Then according to the relationships between these entities, this initiative powers “Tap” in Word and Outlook (available today) to help you find related documents and other content. This search even includes elements such as tables and graphs from those files in the document or e-mail you’re currently working on.
QuickStarter in Sway and PowerPoint will suggest outlines for various topics and provide Creative Commons-licensed images. By the end of the year, Excel will also have a new Map chart type that’ll use Bing Maps to enable geographic data visualizations.
MyAnalytics, formerly Delve Analytics, will provide ways to measure your own performance at work, giving insight into things like who reads e-mails and when, how much time is spent at meetings (and how much of that time is being wasted), and who’s working with whom.
On the cloud front, the big news is the release of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016. These are hitting price lists and general availability on October 1.
Windows Server 2016’s new Nano Server install option offers the slimmest, most lightweight Windows Server deployment ever (it comes with an accordingly limited feature set and attack surface area). It’s designed for virtualized cloud workloads where cutting the install footprint is important to fast provisioning and high VM density.
Windows Server 2016 also ships with Docker-compatible container support. Microsoft announced today that the Commercially Supported version of Docker would be available to Windows Server 2016 customers at no additional cost, with Microsoft providing enterprise support for those users.
A second preview of Azure Stack, the set of software to allow on-premises virtual machine and service provisioning and management in a way consistent with and compatible with the full Azure in the cloud, is now available. The first preview only supported single system deployments; this second preview allows multibox deployments. Microsoft plans to have this production ready by the middle of next year.
The bigger theme at Microsoft’s keynote? IT guys need to embrace the cloud. Numerous video segments showed real IT people saying how their adoption of cloud technology had made their jobs so much better—free from day-to-day system maintenance, they could work on actually saying “yes” to their users and providing them with the technology to do their jobs more effectively.
With each new update, the desirability of adopting the cloud, and the value it can offer over traditional IT infrastructure, becomes clearer and more compelling. On premises may still be the right choice for some organizations, but they’re going to be increasingly losing out compared to their cloud-using counterparts. If Ignite is any indication, the question is no longer “why use the cloud?”—it’s becoming “why deploy on premises?”