Scott Guthrie, EVP of Cloud and Enterprise Group at Microsoft
Scott Guthrie announced new updates to Azure on the first day of Microsoft Ignite in Orlando, Fla.

Microsoft’s annual Ignite conference opened this morning in Orlando, Fla., bringing together customers, partners and MVPs. 

Over 700 sessions, multiple product roadmaps and product releases will fill the next five days. 

Aside from the technology announcements, keynote speeches will dominate today, with Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO; Scott Guthrie, EVP Cloud and Enterprise Group; James Phillips, CVP at Microsoft and Kirk Koenigsbauer, CVP Office 365 Client Apps and Services Team all queued up to speak. 

In its ongoing drive towards transparency, Microsoft held a media briefing to share some of the announcements in advance. The emphasis, said Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of Communications, will be on providing technologies to improve workplace productivity by enabling users to harness data, artificial intelligence, hybrid and cloud computing.

Expect announcements covering digital workplace applications and developments, business applications, data and AI-powered apps, as well as infrastructure and the next frontier of computing with quantum computers.

What that means in practical terms is upgrades and new releases for Office 365, Windows 10, Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft AI.

Here are a few announcements that stood out:

1. Microsoft 365 Expansion

Microsoft 365 was one of the most closely watched releases of the past year. Unveiled by Satya Nadella at the Inspire partner conference, it combines Office 365, Windows 10 and Enterprise Mobility and Security.

Nadella promised more to come at the time, and he wasn’t lying. During Ignite, Microsoft will announce the expansion of Microsoft 365 with the release of two new solutions, one for firstline workers, the other for education customers.

Microsoft 365 Education includes Office 365 for Education, Windows 10, Enterprise Mobility and Security and Minecraft: Education Edition.

It is also adding new intelligent search capabilities to Microsoft 365 as well as IT management and security features to support compliance with next year’s GDPR regulations.

2. Dynamics 365's AI Boost

Microsoft has continued to upgrade Dynamics 365 since its launch last November.

The solution pulls together customer relationship management from Dynamics CRM and enterprise resource planning from Dynamics AX.

Microsoft has since integrated the solution with LinkedIn Sales Navigator as well as added new artificial intelligence capabilities.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 AI solutions are designed to tackle high-value, complex enterprise scenarios and tailored to existing processes, systems and data.

During Ignite, Microsoft will announce the addition of new AI apps designed to help business users design more effective processes.

The new intelligence apps will help users transform high-impact processes by integrating with existing systems and augmenting them with workflow and insights from Dynamics 365, LinkedIn and Office 365.

The first of these, Attract and Onboard, will help companies recruit the most qualified candidates and ease the onboarding processes. The apps will be available through Dynamics 365 for Talent later this year.

The company will also provide deeper integration between PowerApps, Microsoft Flow and Office 365.

3. Azure Stack Updates

With cloud computing now a key factor supporting higher productivity and improved data-driven experiences, any Azure news will have a direct impact on what happens in the enterprise over the coming year.

”Cloud technology has enabled the era of digital transformation for enterprise customers, small businesses, and governments alike. While the vast majority of organizations have moved to a cloud-first technology strategy, most are still early on realizing this strategy due to a number of aspects from complexity of existing systems, to incomplete cloud capabilities, to emerging privacy regulations,” Scott Gutherie said at the press event.

Microsoft is announcing a number of new Azure initiatives over the next week which keep the focus on hybrid computing. Among them are:

Azure Stack will ship through OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners including Dell EMC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Azure Stack acts as an extension of Azure that allows businesses to deliver Azure services from their datacenters using the same APIs, tools and experiences they would have in the Azure cloud.

This means developers can build an application and have it run in Azure or locally on Azure Stack, opening up new uses cases such as edge and disconnected solutions.

Among the other announcements, look for the new Azure Security Center, which will include new integrated security capabilities focused on better threat protection.

Microsoft will also be previewing updates to Azure Machine Learning, which will give AI developers and data scientists a new set of tools to develop and manage machine learning and AI models.

News services by Cloudyn will help manage and optimize cloud spend via a single, unified view, across multi-cloud environments.

Expect other upgrades such as an Azure CosmosDB and Azure Functions integration and updates to Microsoft Cognitive Services.

4. Skype for Business Folds Into Teams

Microsoft is also looking to replace Skype for Business by making Teams the center of its communications strategy.

This will bring Skype for Business Online capabilities into Microsoft Teams, along with cognitive and data services, making Teams the true hub for teamwork in Office 365, including persistent chat, voice and video.

Skype for Business was introduced in 2015 when it replaced Lync

Skype won't disappear though. The name may go, but the infrastructure that enables enterprise-grade video and voice calling will be pushed into Teams. Office 365 users who depend on Skype for Business will be moved over to Teams.

And for those late-adopter enterprises, a new Skype for Business server is scheduled for the second half of 2018.

5. Tighter Integration for Office 365 and LinkedIn

Microsoft will also start pulling Office 365 and LinkedIn together. The gradual process will start in the coming year with an integration between LinkedIn data and Office 365 profile cards. With this, users can access data about colleagues or professional contacts directly from Office 365 instead of having to go to LinkedIn.

Other announcements are on the way, including a new search experience across Office built on Microsoft Graph. Expect to hear more about artificial intelligence and Office 365, security and GDPR.