Microsoft Ignite Preview: Security, AI and the Edge

Microsoft is making literally dozens of announcements at the event, with Microsoft Authenticator, which the company says will end the era of passwords, and a new Microsoft Search at the top of all 365 apps likely to catch the most headlines.

Today, Microsoft kicks off their sold-out Ignite event in Orlando. Three big themes dominate the event: security; artificial intelligence and data; and the edge. While all these topics will be covered much more extensively this week, ChannelBuzz offers a preview of the many amounts that will be made.

“There are three core areas of news around the event: security; artificial intelligence and data; and edge computing,” said Frank X. Shaw. Microsoft’s head of Communications.

“In security, our unique vision is bringing three components together for a heterogeneous approach: operations; technology; and partners,” Shaw said. “Every day we process more than 6.5 trillion signals. We block more than 5 billion distinct malware threats each month.”

The first extension of their security vision – and probably the splashiest announcement at the event – is Microsoft Authenticator.

“Today, we declare an end to the era of passwords, with the Microsoft Authenticator app for password-less login to enterprise applications,” Shaw said. Designed to eliminate the problem of compromised passwords that are the root cause of most data breaches, the Microsoft Authenticator app provides a password-less login for the hundreds of thousands of Azure AD connected apps.

Another major security-focused announcement is the expansions to Microsoft Secure Score. Originally designed as Office 365 Secure Score, this is a dynamic report card that was expanded and rebranded last April. At that time, it added a new Windows Secure Score, which came from Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection’s information about the status of  antivirus, OS security updates, firewall, and other controls, to form a new combined Microsoft Secure Score. Now, it is being expanded again, to include EMS and Azure Security Center, as well as a broader set of controls from products like Microsoft Cloud App Security and Azure Active Directory to further harden defenses.

“Microsoft Secure Score is a dynamic report card on the company’s security posture,” Shaw said, “It now includes a broader set of controls to bring all of Microsoft 365 in. We are encouraging all 365 customers to turn it on. It makes them 30 times less likely to be breached. It’s time for companies to read their report card on security.”

Other new security solutions are Microsoft Threat Protection, and a public preview of Azure Confidential Computing.

“These bring the comprehensive end-to-end security experience together,” Shaw said.

Microsoft Threat Protection is an end-to-end service for cyberthreat protection, detection and remediation. It uses AI and human research to speed up investigations to eliminate threats faster, bringing together advanced threat protection and auto-remediation across email, PCs, identities and infrastructure into a single integrated experience in Microsoft 365. The public preview of Azure Confidential Computing makes Azure the first cloud service to provide a secure platform for protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data in use.

Shaw also announced the expansion of broader security partnerships in which Microsoft plays a key role.

“We are announcing the expansion of the Cybersecurity Tech Accord, an industry-wide group that has made an agreement to defend all customers everywhere,” he said. “It has nearly doubled in size with 27 new vendors, bringing it to a total of 61.”

Shaw also announced that Microsoft is developing plans to extend the Defending Democracy program, designed to protect the electoral process, and which has been offered as a free service in the U.S., would be expanded to democracies around the world.

“In addition, the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit has taken down 18 criminal botnets and 84 fake websites used in phishing attacks,” Shaw said. “With our partners and customers, we are starting to turn the tide.”

In Ignite’s second focus area. AI and Data, Shaw kicked off the announcements with an announcement of a new social initiative.

“Over the last 18 months, we have launched two AI for Good programs,” he said. “We are now announcing the third, AI for Humanitarian Action, which will use the power of AI for disaster response, aid for children, and protection of refugees and human rights.” Shaw announced a commitment for $40 million in funding.

Shaw then ran through an enormous number of new initiatives around AI.

“We are announcing new features in Azure Machine Learning, which automates decisions for data scientists,” he said. “This includes new hardware accelerated models for FPGAs, and a Python SDK to makes Azure Machine Learning services accessible from popular IDEs and notebooks.”

A new SQL Server 2019 preview was announced. It adds new Big Data capabilities, and now has Apache Spark and Hadoop Distributed File System built-in to allow data scientists to ingest, store and analyze vast amounts of data. New connectors have been added to query other databases like Oracle, Teradata and MongoDB directly from SQL Server.

“We are announcing Azure SQL DB hyperscale, a new high-performance storage tier that auto-scales up to 100 TB per database,” Shaw said. “It gives a hyperscale capability to support app growth as customers build ever more data-intensive apps.” It will be available October 1.

Public preview of Azure Data Explorer was announced. It is a fast indexing and querying service, optimized for ad-hoc data exploration and analytics of log and telemetry data from websites, applications and IoT devices, designed to accelerate discovery and insight from large volumes of event data. New multi-master was also announced to Azure Cosmos DB. Multi-master support provides high levels of availability and single-digit millisecond latency, with built-in flexible conflict resolution support, that make it easier to build mission-critical, globally distributed apps.

Shaw also announced what he termed a number of new ‘everyday AI’ enhancements to Microsoft 365. It starts with a new search capability within the 365 apps themselves, Microsoft Search.

“This is a new unified search capability, which will be in a search box in the same place at the top of all the apps,” he said. The technology here is the Microsoft Graph and AI technology from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Microsoft Search is available in preview today, on, to, including app start pages and in the SharePoint mobile app. Other endpoints to come include Microsoft Edge, Windows and Office.

Ideas in Office is a new tool that leverages AIT to provide intelligent recommendations in Office applications, beginning with Excel and PowerPoint.

“This will include things like suggestions on slide and document design,” Shaw said. Clicking the lightning bolt icon in Excel or PowerPoint launches the Ideas pane.

New AI enhancements to Excel have been added. This includes Insert Data from Picture, a new feature now available in public preview on Android which lets users take a picture of a table from their phones quickly it into an Excel file that can be edited, analyzed and shared.

“Excel will now automatically convert a picture of a hand-drawn table into a spreadsheet as well,” Shaw said.

Other Excel performance improvements include lookup-type functions now taking seconds instead of minutes.

Integration between Office 365 and LinkedIn accounts has been enhanced, letting users send emails and share documents with LinkedIn first-degree connections directly from Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

“It will unite the Office 365 corporate directory and the LinkedIn directory, so you never have to keep track of email addresses,” Shaw said. Later this year, customers will be able to see LinkedIn information about the people they’re meeting with directly in meeting invites.

New AI enhancements have also been made to the Microsoft Teams collaboration app.

“Teams is the fastest growing business app in Microsoft’s history,” Shaw said. “In less than two years, 329,000 organizations are now using Teams. That’s about twice the number that use Slack.  87 of the Fortune 100 use it. Accenture has more than 100,000 users who use it. We are expanding to address all workers in more industries, and it will be a similar lesson as Azure in how we grow our market share.”

The new capabilities include Background blur, which uses facial detection to blur your background during video meetings. Another addition is an automatic transcription capability, where the recording provides speech-to-text transcription generating a searchable transcript and automatically applying captions to the recording. With general availability of new live event capabilities beginning to roll out worldwide in Microsoft 365 later this year, users will also be able to create and stream live and on-demand events in Teams, Microsoft Stream and Yammer.

“We are also announcing Cortana Skills for Enterprise, which lets enterprises build custom skills and agents for the enterprise,” Shaw said. These have been developed with the Microsoft Bot Framework and Azure Cognitive Services Language Understanding service. This service is currently available by invite only. Microsoft says it will be extended more broadly ‘in the near future,’ with companies and developers being able to request an invitation.

The third and final area of focus at Ignite is in the area of the Internet of Things and Edge Computing.

Azure Digital Twins is a new offering in Microsoft’s IoT platform.

“It lets customers and partners create a digital replica of any physical environment to better predict maintenance, troubleshoot remotely, or efficiently manage energy consumption.” Shaw said. “With this, you can see how space is managed, to better optimize things.

Azure Data Box Edge, now available in public preview, is a new addition to the Azure Data Box family.

“Azure Data Box Edge is a physical network appliance, that sits where the data is generated, that lets customers analyze, process, and transform data before they send it to the cloud,” Shaw said. It uses advanced FPGA hardware natively integrated into the appliance to run machine learning algorithms efficiently at the edge.

Finally, Azure Sphere, a holistic solution designed to secure and power IoT devices at the intelligent edge, is now available in public preview, and development kits are now universally available.  It is scheduled for release next April.