microsoftigniteThis week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft is hosting the 2018 Microsoft Ignite conference. Ignite is the largest Microsoft technology conference held every year. In fact, the attendee numbers are in the range of 20,000+ people in attendance. This year, there seems to have been more Microsoft Azure related announcements made at, or around, the conference than in years past. In addition, there are many other Microsoft announcements that have been made as well.

This special edition of Build Azure Weekly highlights the top Microsoft Azure related announcements made by Microsoft at, or around, the Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference. Be aware, this is a pretty long list, and doesn’t even include all the announcement made this week!


Artificial Intelligence (AI)

  • AI for Humanitarian Action – Microsoft is launching AI for Humanitarian Action, a new $40 million, five-year program that will harness the power of AI for disaster recover, helping children, protecting refugees and displaced people, and promoting respect for human rights.
  • Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise – Microsoft is bringing customizable Cortana experiences and skills with the new Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprise.
  • New Azure Machine Learning capabilities – Azure Machine Learning helps data scientists and developers build and train AI models faster, then easily deploy to the cloud or the edge. Significant new updates to the service include automated machine learning to identify the most efficient algorithms and optimize model performance, additional hardware-accelerated models for FPGAs, and a Python SDK that makes Azure Machine Learning services accessible from popular IDEs and notebooks.
  • Azure Cognitive Services update (Speech Service GA) – Microsoft’s new Speech Service, which combines several AI speech capabilities into a single service, is now generally available.
  • Microsoft Bot Framework v4 GA – The Microsoft Bot Framework v4 SDK is now generally available with rich, multi-language tools for building and connecting intelligent bots using C#, Java, Python and JavaScript.
  • Unified search across Microsoft 365 – Microsoft Search, a new unified search experience in Microsoft 365, enables you to find, command,navigate and discover items across your organization’s network of data, transforming your search barinto a resource for collective knowledge.
  • New AI-powered meeting features in Microsoft 365 – Advancing the company’s vision for intelligent communications, new AI-powered features for video meetings are now available in Microsoft Teams. Background blur uses facial detection to blur your background during video calls, so people can focus on you and not what’s behind you, and intelligent meeting recording automatically generates captions and a searchable, time-coded transcript. Background blur and meeting recording are now rolling out to Office 365 commercial customers. General availability of new live event capabilities will begin to roll out worldwide in Microsoft 365 later this year.
  • Ideas in Office – Ideas is a new feature in Office that consolidates powerful AI features into a simplified experience across Office 365. A single click launches Ideas, which follows along as you create a document and makesintelligent suggestions tailored to what you’re doing. For instance, in PowerPoint, Ideas recommendsdesigns, layouts and images. And in Excel, it recognizes trends, suggests charts and identifies outliers in your data. Ideas is generally available in Excel today and will begin rolling out in preview soon to the other apps starting with PowerPoint Online.
  • Intelligent enhancements in Excel –  Data Types in Excel is now generally available. Launched in public preview in March 2018, this AI-powered tool turns references to stocks and geographies into rich entities that can be used to build powerful, interactive spreadsheets, making it easy to get updated stock prices, company information, population, area and more. In addition, a new image recognition capability in Excel lets you quickly convert a picture of a data table into an Excel file that can be edited, analyzed and shared. That capability — called Insert Data from Picture— is now available in public preview. Other Excel improvements include faster lookup-type functions, which now take seconds, instead of minutes.


  • SQL Server 2019 public preview – SQL Server 2019, now launching in preview, is bringing big data capabilities with this new release. You can ingest, store and analyze vast amounts of data with a built-in Spark and Hadoop distributed file system. And new connectors let you query databases like Oracle, Teradata and MongoDB directly from SQL Server, breaking down data silos for faster insights.
  • Azure SQL Database Hyperscale and Managed Instance – Azure SQL Database is introducing two new features to cost-effectively migrate workloads to the cloud. SQL Database Hyperscale for single databases, available in preview on Oct. 1, is a highly scalable service tier that adapts on demand to workload needs. It auto-scales up to 100 TB per database to significantly expand potential for app growth.
  • Azure Data Explorer public preview – Azure Data Explorer, a lightning-fast indexing and querying service, is now available in public preview. Optimized for ad-hoc data exploration, the solution helps you discover insights from large volumes of event data, which typically originate from apps, servers and edge devices. Customers have different options to interactively explore near-real-time data to quickly analyze performance and diagnose issues.
  • Azure Cosmos DB Multi-master GA – Three updates to Azure Cosmos DB are now generally available to help customers build mission-critical, globally distributed apps. Multi-master support, launched in preview at Build 2018, provides high levels of availability and single- digit millisecond latency with built-in flexible conflict resolution. The Cassandra API, launched in previewin 2017, expands Cosmos DB into a multimodel, multi-API database. And the Reserved Capacity feature reduces cost barriers to entry.
  • Azure Databricks Delta Preview – Azure Databricks Delta is a new solution available in preview as part of the premium pricing tier in Azure Databricks. Delta increases data reliability, improves performance for jobs and queries, and simplifies data pipelines.
  • Azure SQL Database Intelligence features – Optimizing query performance is easy with the latest additions to our intelligent query processing feature family. We are announcing three new preview offerings: row mode memory grant feedback, approximate query processing and table variable deferred compilation. With minimal effort, these features can collectively optimize your memory usage and improve overall query performance.
  • New Azure SQL Data Warehouse pricing tier – Azure SQL Data Warehouse, a fast, flexible and secure analytics platform, now offers a lower entry point to help customers get started with powerful analytics and elastic scalability. Now available in 23 Azure regions, the lower pricing tier decouples storage and compute.

Internet of Things (IoT) and Edge computing

  • Azure Digital Twins – Azure Digital Twins is a new IoT platform to build comprehensive digital models of any physical environment. Available in public preview on Oct. 15, the platform will provide a way to virtuallyrepresent the physical world and enable partners to build custom solutions that address people’sneeds who occupy and manage these spaces by bringing together the full picture — people, places and devices.
  • Azure IoT Central GA – Azure IoT Central, a new solution for getting started quickly with IoT, is now generally available. Launched in public preview in December 2017, the solution simplifies the journey to IoT with the security and global scale of Azure, allowing organizations to build enterprise-grade, secured IoT applications without having to manage back-end infrastructure.
  • Azure Maps: Map Control update – An improved Map Control API in Azure Maps is now available, with new features for intuitive, insightful data layering and visualizations. The experience has new layers for different forms for different entities, such as tiles, symbols, polygons and lines. It also supports HTML-based icons on the map and provides new functions for data-driven styling. And it has a new spatial math library for easy developer access, equipped with commonly used spatial math calculations for global geometry.
  • New Azure IoT Edge features and capabilities – Microsoft partners can now submit third-party IoT Edge modules for certification and showcase in the Azure Marketplace. In July, Microsoft announced that the marketplace will showcase third-party modules to help customers discover prebuilt edge solutions and reduce development time. Partners showcasing modules will also have monetization capabilities in the future. Also new this week is a public preview launch of IoT Edge extended offline.
  • Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service updates – New capabilities in the Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service will be available by the end of September to help customers more easily provision, register and scale millions of IoT devices. The capabilities will include support for registering and re-provisioning devices from one IoT solution to another, and enrollment-level allocation rules that give customers more control.
  • Azure IoT platform support for Android and Android Things – We are announcing that Azure IoT Hub will support Android and the Android Things platform via the Java SDK. Customers can use the Java SDK to turn Android and Android Things devices into IoT devices. All features in Java SDK will be available, including the Azure IoT Hub features we support and SDK-specific features such as retry policy for network reliability. This continues our commitment to enabling greater choice and flexibility in IoT deployments.
  • Azure Sphere public preview – Azure Sphere, a holistic solution to create secured, connected, microcontroller devices, is now available in public preview. The solution provides security that starts with secured microcontrollers and extends to a turnkey cloud service that guards every Azure Sphere device. Development kits are now universally available.
  • Azure Data Box Edge preview – Azure Data Box Edge, a new product to transport data in and out of Azure, is now available in public preview. The solution is a physical network appliance equipped with AI-enabled edge computing capabilities to help you analyze, process and transform on-premises data before uploading it to the cloud. It’s shipped by Microsoft and part of the Azure Data Box family.
  • Azure Event Hubs on Azure Stack in development – Microsoft is developing Azure Event Hubs for Azure Stack to enable cloud-style telemetry ingestion from websites, apps and other streams of data. The work will empower modern app development, IoT on-premises and scenarios that are disconnected from public internet.
  • Consistent Blockchain deployment for Azure and Azure Stack preview – A consistent blockchain deployment that works across Azure and Azure Stack is now available in preview.
  • Expanded capacity for Azure Stack – The ability to expand a single Azure Stack to 16 nodes will be available in the coming weeks via integrated systems from these hardware partners: Avanade, Cisco, Dell, HPE, Huawei and Lenovo. The capability ensures that customers can increase the capacity of an Azure Stack integrated system to meet their business needs.

Azure Infrastructure

  • Windows Server 2019 and Windows Server, version 1809 availability – Windows Server 2019 will be generally available in October 2018. Windows Server 2019 is the latest Long-Term Servicing Channel release, which means it will be supported for five years with additional five years of extended support and will accrue the value from the previous Semi-Annual Channel releases (version 1709 and 1803). Windows Server, version 1809 is the latest Semi-Annual Channel release and will be available with Windows Server 2019, focusing on customers who want to innovate with containers and micro-services.
  • Azure Ultra SSD Managed Disks public preview – Ultra Solid State Drives (SSDs), a new Azure Managed Disks offering for latency-sensitive workloads, is now available in public preview.
  • Azure Standard SSD Managed Disks GA – Azure Standard SSD Managed Disks — an offering for workloads with low input/output operations per second (IOPS) and that need consistent performance — is now generally available.
  • Azure Premium Files public preview – Azure Premium Files, a high-performance, SSD-backed storage tier for Azure Files, is now available in public preview. The service provides a high-throughput, low-latency option for SMB Cloud file sharing.
  • Larger Azure Managed Disks sizes – New tiers for Azure Managed Disks that significantly expand storage capacity are now available in public preview in specific regions.
  • New GPU-enabled Azure Virtual Machines – Microsoft is announcing two new N-series Azure Virtual Machines with GPU capabilities. GPUs are ideal for compute and graphics-intensive workloads in innovative scenarios like high-end remote visualization, machine learning, high-performance computing simulations and predictive analytics. The first offering is part of the NV-series, available in public preview and architected for powerful remote visualization workloads and other graphics-intensive applications. The second offering is part of the ND-series focused on machine learning, high-performance computing and inference scenarios. The public preview is planned for later this year.
  • Azure Serial Console GA – Now generally available, Azure Serial Console allows you to access and interact with your virtualmachines (VMs) independently of the VM’s network or operating system state, so you can easily debugan unreachable VM. Built for developers and system administrators, the self-service diagnosis and troubleshooting tool launched in public preview in March 2018.
  • Azure Virtual WAN GA – Azure Virtual WAN, launched in public preview in July 2018, is now generally available. It provides a simple, unified and global distributed connectivity-and-security platform for deploying large-scale branch office infrastructure to help customers with massive modernization efforts. The service works with existing on-premises routers and firewalls as well as newer SD WAN systems from a growing list of partners. Azure ExpressRoute now also connects to Azure Virtual WAN, allowing customers to access corporate resources, such as an on-premises datacenter, that are connected to an Azure ExpressRoute circuit.
  • Azure Front Door Service preview – Azure Front Door Service (AFD), Microsoft’s application acceleration platform used internally by services including Bing, Office 365 and Xbox, is now available to customers in public preview. It is a scalable, secure entry point for fast delivery of global, microservice based web applications, with dashboard tools for controlling and monitoring service traffic and global backends from dozens of edge locations around the world.
  • Azure Firewall GA – Azure Firewall, a new firewall-as-a-service offering, is now generally available. Launched in public preview in July, it offers a managed, cloud-native network security service to protect application resources with built-in high availability and unrestricted cloud scalability. Customers can centrally create, enforce and log policies for application and network connectivity across subscriptions and virtual networks. The service now also supports inbound and outbound connectivity, hybrid networks (ExpressRoute/VPN), deeper platform integration with Azure Monitor, Azure Security Center, Azure Application Services, Network Watcher and more.
  • Azure ExpressRoute Direct public preview – Azure ExpressRoute Direct, the world’s fastest private edge connectivity with 100Gbps capacity, is nowavailable in public preview. The feature adds to the existing ExpressRoute service and enables connectivityto Microsoft’s global backbone for such scenarios as massive data ingestion to storage, physical isolation,dedicated capacity and burst capacity, all with access to Azure regions at tremendous scale.
  • Azure ExpressRoute Global Reach public preview – Now in public preview, Azure ExpressRoute Global Reach connects ExpressRoute circuits together so that on-premises locations can communicate with each other using Microsoft’s global network. For example, if you have a private datacenter in California connected to ExpressRoute in Silicon Valley, and another private datacenter in the United Kingdom connected to ExpressRoute in London, ExpressRoute Global Reach can connect the datacenters together using the two ExpressRoute connections. The cross-datacenter traffic traverses through Microsoft’s network backbone. ExpressRoute Global Reach is a uniquesolution not available from other cloud providers.
  • New Azure DDoS Protection Standard features – New features in Azure DDoS Protection Standard are now generally available, providing attack insights and visualization for customers protecting their virtual network against DDoS attacks. The services include detailed attack-mitigation reports and flow logs, via diagnostic settings in Azure Monitor. Azure Security Center also now provides recommendations to protect virtual networks against DDoS attacks.
  • H-series Virtual Machines for High-Performance Computing public preview – Two new H-series Virtual Machines for High-Performance Computing, the HB and HC, have been architected to handle high-end computational needs. These new VMs are performance and cost- optimized for large scale HPC workloads such as fluid dynamics, structural mechanics, energy exploration, weather forecasting, risk analysis, and more. The new H-series will be available broadly with a public preview later this year.
  • Microsoft Learn and role-based Microsoft Certifications – Microsoft Learn is a new, free, interactive web-based training with step-by-step bite-size tutorials to quickly learn Azure and Business Applications. Sign-in to track progress, earn achievements with knowledge checks and use free Azure resources for hands-on learning. New role-based Microsoft Certifications — validate skills and be recognized as a leader with industry recognized Microsoft certifications now aligned to job roles. Learning content across modalities, including from Microsoft Learning Partners, will align to the new role-based certifications.

Governance and Management

  • Azure Blueprints public preview – Azure Blueprints, now in public preview, provides a one-click solution for setting up governed subscriptions with preconfigured resources, policies, management, security and user access controls. Customers evaluating public clouds want modern governance capabilities to deploy resources faster and with more control. Azure recognizes the needs by including industry-leading governance capabilities —like Azure Blueprints — in the platform for no additional cost.
  • Azure Resource Graph public preview – Azure Resource Graph, now in public preview, enables customers to explore their Azure resources at scale for more efficient inventory management. Used through the Azure Portal, PowerShell or CLI, it provides powerful querying and parsing capabilities to gather insights on environment resources. The service is included in the Azure platform for no additional charge.


  • Azure SignalR Service GA – The Azure SignalR Service is now generally available to all Azure customers. The service, launched in public preview in May, enables developers to build apps that support real-time experiences such as chat, stock tickers and live dashboards without worrying about capacity provisioning, scaling or persistent connections. With about 3 million downloads to date, SignalR is a popular ASP.NET library that makes it simple to add real-time functionality to web applications.
  • Azure Functions 2.0 runtime availability and other updates – Azure Functions 2.0 runtime, which brings the power of functions-based computing to more developers, is now generally available. Runtime and other platform improvements allow you to now use your cross- platform .NET Core assets within your Functions apps. Updates also include support for Python development and a consumption plan for Functions built on top of Linux OS. Azure Functions also now shows HTTP dependencies on the Application Insights App Map, enabling support for Function triggers and any HTTP connections for richer monitoring experience.

The above list of announcements made at or around Microsoft Ignite 2018 are listed in the “Book of News” for Microsoft Ignite 2018 that Microsoft released to help cover the vast amount of announcements made this week. You can download the “Book of News” to view a full list of announcements made.

Microsoft MVP

Chris Pietschmann is a Microsoft MVP, HashiCorp Ambassador, and Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) with 20+ years of experience designing and building Cloud & Enterprise systems. He has worked with companies of all sizes from startups to large enterprises. He has a passion for technology and sharing what he learns with others to help enable them to learn faster and be more productive.
HashiCorp Ambassador Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect