Microsoft had a fascinating and positive 2016, with new hardware and software launches, as well as some surprising acquisitions.
With CEO Satya Nadella’s transformation of Redmond nearly complete, we can expect more changes in 2017 as Microsoft’s enterprise reach stretches beyond Windows into the wider world of cross-platform computing and the cloud.
Here’s my guide as to what enterprise IT should expect from Microsoft in the new year in each core Microsoft domain.
Azure and the cloud transition
For the IT administrator and the datacenter, 2017 is likely to be a transitional year. We’ve had a new Windows Server 2016 release, and it’s going to take some time to roll out across businesses of all sizes. With a strong focus on the datacenter (in particular, on running virtualized workloads), it’s clear Microsoft is positioning Windows Server as a tool for the ongoing cloud transition.
How does Microsoft see this transition? Most likely: You start with an on-premises Windows Server deployment, moving existing applications and workloads to virtual server instances. New applications and rewrites can then start taking advantage of the extremely lightweight nature of Windows Nano Server and of the cross-platform development model that comes with the open source .Net Core.
Once you’ve moved to a containerized delivery model, it doesn’t matter where that code runs—in the cloud or on your servers.
One of Microsoft’s big deliverables for 2017 will be its Azure Stack “cloud in a box” combination of software and third-party server hardware. Both Dell and HP have announced that they’ll ship Azure Stack racks midyear; Microsoft has recently delivered a second preview build for proof-of-concept deployments.
Although it’s not a tool for every datacenter, Azure Stack can help deliver hybrid cloud solutions where the same code runs on Azure and on-premises, with the same control and deployment models but with highly regulated data staying in your datacenter.
Azure and the rest of Microsoft’s cloud will become increasingly important as part of any IT management policy, with key features in the upcoming Creators Update for Windows 10 relying on cloud services to handle security reports and for software delivery.
Much of this will depend on light-touch cloud-based management tools delivered with Intune and initially exposed in Windows 8. Windows 10’s upcoming support for Qualcomm-based ARM PC/smartphone hybrids running Win32 code will likely need to take advantage of this approach, because the resulting budget devices will be used by home workers and contract staff for a mix of personal and work tasks.
The cloud will be a big part of Microsoft’s 2017, especially for anyone writing code. If you tuned into its 2016 Connect event, you’d have seen that cloud services are a key part of Microsoft’s cross-platform development strategy. As Xamarin continues to be folded into Visual Studio, the resulting tools (along with the open source Visual Studio Code programmer’s editor) will let you quickly build and deliver application endpoints that run on Windows, Android, iOS, MacOS, and even Unix, thanks to Windows 10’s Bash shell and its Linux support. Those endpoints will take advantage of Azure services; whether via Service Fabric or serverless compute in Azure Functions.
2017 should see Microsoft continue to improve its Azure services, with updates to DocumentDB and the associated big data tools, as well as the range of IoT services and data analysis services wrapped in the Cortana Analytics Services platform.
Similarly, more machine learning functionality should transition from research groups to the wider world as part of the ever-growing Cognitive Services set of APIs, which have turned what would have been complex image recognition and natural language interpretation tools into plug-and-play APIs.
Developers should also pay close attention to recent moves by Oracle to monetize its Java licenses, which may make .Net Core a more attractive platform for building the middle tier of applications. Combined with the release of SQL Server, .Net Core, and PowerShell all on Linux mean that Microsoft’s developer and management platforms can now compete directly with Java, with licensing terms that may well be a lot more attractive. That’s not something I’d have expected to say about .Net at the beginning of 2016!
Devices and collaboration
Microsoft’s enterprise device strategy appears to be going well, with significant sales for the collaborative Surface Hub, including some very large deployments.
Collaboration is going to be an important theme in 2017, building on the tools in Office 365 and Skype, and with strong competition from Google’s G Suite platform and third-party tools like Slack. People need to work together, and Microsoft is quickly moving to supporting these scenarios. With its new rapid delivery schedule, I expect to see quick changes in Microsoft Teams, opening up to users outside corporate Office 365 installs.
The launch of Microsoft’s Teams collaboration platform also sets the scene for another year of incremental improvements to Office 365. The launch of the Office Insiders program has meant that new features can be rolled out to users and tested in the wild, making it easier to see what new features are coming and when they’re likely to be released. Office 365 and Dynamics should also benefit from the acquisition of LinkedIn, adding an external relationship graph to Microsoft’s existing machine learning tools.
LinkedIn should also help power a new generation of security tools, using individual relationships to help map the context of, for example, email messages. Identity has long been a big problem facing enterprises, and by bringing together LinkedIn and Azure Active Directory, Microsoft now has an opportunity to expand its security model away from devices to people—a model that makes more sense in a world where people use multiple devices and multiple operating systems.
That model also allows Microsoft to expand its intelligence-based security used by Windows Defender and Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection and other tools, bringing in more ways of understanding how malware flows and providing better tools for identifying phishing messages—especially targeted spear-phishing attacks.
There’s already basic support for the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) security tools in Windows 10 and Edge browser. 2017 should see improved support for password-less security, as FIDO 2.0 gains wider acceptance. We’ll see support for Windows Hello biometrics in applications as an alternative sign-in method, as well as support for device-to-device authentication.
Although 2017 won’t see the death of the password, it’ll be one of the bigger steps on the road to better ways of authenticating and securing all our devices.