I had a privilege to attend Microsoft Ignite and Envision conference, the fourth year in a row from Sep 24-28th, 2018 in Orlando, FL. This is Microsoft’s signature technology conference focuses on innovations in all three Microsoft cloud platforms (Microsoft Azure & Modern Apps, Microsoft 365/Office 365 & EMS, and Dynamics 365) in addition to areas like Microsoft AI, Microsoft Data, and Windows.
Keynote, Sessions, and Conference Activities Highlights
Microsoft Day 1 & Day 2 usually focuses on the main keynote, sub keynotes, and product keynotes. This year conference started with Satya Nadella’s vision keynote. This year’s main theme was “Tech Intensity”. I love attending and listening to Satya’s vision, but this year I felt it was dry and wasn’t up to mark. It was short and only for an hour, and I have seen people lost their interest as keynote delivered.
Another big problem with the keynote that rooms are very small, and even though I was at the conference center at 8 AM, I was asked to go to the viewing area. I wasn’t happy about getting redirected to the viewing area at 8 AM. What’s the point of attending the conference keynote, if there are no spaces for the live event, and live streamed worldwide. It’s a problem Microsoft needs to solve. The only major announcement at the keynote was an Open Data Initiative announced a joint effort from Adobe, Microsoft, and SAP.
My typical focus at the Microsoft Ignite has been Office365 and SharePoint Innovations over the years. This year, I have decided to focus on Microsoft Azure and Modern App Development tracks. After the main keynote, I have attended Scott Gutherie’s sub keynote focusing on IT and developer success with Microsoft Azure.
After lunch, the main keynotes followed by general sessions. I have attended the general session to focus on Azure infrastructure overview. Both sub keynote and general session are a great starter for the Microsoft announcements in the specific area. Ignite usually have a three sub keynotes and 7-8 general sessions to funnel attendees to specific areas of their interest.
My first day ended with the first breakout session delivered by ever-energetic Donovan Brown focusing on getting started with Azure DevOps. His session was the highlight of the first day. Twitter has been my friend over the years to stay up to date with other areas announcements.
Since I decided not to attend modern workplace sessions, Twitter was the best where I was able to catch up what’s happening in the Microsoft 365, Office 365, SharePoint, and Microsoft Teams space. My first day ended with Microsoft Ignite Welcome Reception party at the Expo.
My Day 2 continued with Azure Sessions. First one in the morning started with real-world architecture considerations for Azure: how to succeed and what to avoid. Great overview of various Azure architecture patterns, but felt it was too dry. It was a good overview of Azure reference architectures on the Github and Microsoft site (link at the bottom).
The second session in the morning was app modernization with containers on Microsoft Azure. Brilliant overview of various Azure container services with reference architectures. Don’t get me wrong but first few days of the MS Ignite is more focused on announcements, roadmaps, and lots of marketing materials. If you are following Microsoft updates on Twitter, at times, it feels like there isn’t anything new announced at the Ignite.
I spent my afternoon walking through Expo area and learning about some of the ISVs like Unily and Valo Intranet in SharePoint space. I have attended only one session in the afternoon securing enterprise productivity with Office 365 threat protection services including EOP, ATP, and Threat Intelligence. This session provided a great overview of EMS features.
My Day 3 started with two back to back Microsoft Azure Exams (AZ-300 and AZ-301) sessions. I have attended similar sessions in past SharePoint conferences and didn’t find it any useful. Fast forward 5-6 years at this Microsoft Ignite conference, same was true. I would suggest avoiding these sessions, as speakers don’t provide many details than what’s on the MS learning site. The worst part about these was I ended up losing my morning to unnecessary sessions.
After lunch, I visited LiveTiles booth to learn about their intelligence workplace and LiveTiles intranet offerings on SharePoint and Microsoft Azure platform. My afternoon started with attending Microsoft IT session to learn about their journey and approach from Skype for Business to Teams. It was short but very useful. Understanding change adoption and champions program are as important as technology are great to see in a real-world case study.
There were few SharePoint sessions I was interested in the late afternoon but decided to walk through the expo. I stopped by tons of ISVs and Microsoft booths to learn about their products, partnership structure; RenCore, MS Learning, LMS365, Sharegate, and Nintex comes to the top of my mind.
If you are a deep technologist and regular MS Ignite attendee, real fun usually starts on Day 3 and Day 4 with deep dive sessions. My Day 4 started with Microsoft Teams Architecture Deep Dive. I attended the same session last year, and even though there were lots of repetition, this is one session I love to attend. Understanding what’s under the hood is a great way to master the technology. If you haven’t attended this session, I would highly recommend.
My 2nd session was an overview of new Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance centers. I welcomed Microsoft’s decision to break the current Security and Compliance center into two different admin centers. It was confusing to have both Security and Compliance on the same portal.
The third session I have attended was an IT pros guide to Open ID Connect, OAuth 2.0 with the V1 and V2 Azure Active Directory endpoints. I have never heard about John Craddock, but he was one of the best speakers I have come across. This is one of the must sessions every IT Pro and developers should review.
After lunch, I have visited SharePoint Spaces Immersion viewing area to experience SharePoint spaces and discuss under the hood architecture with the engineering team. It followed with my visit to Workplace Analytics and MyAnalytics booth to understand the product, licensing, and future vision, before heading back to the hotel for the Ignite Attendee Party at the Universal Studio.
Last day of Ignite is like the aftermath of Indian Wedding Ceremony where no guests, no parties, no major events, but only a few close friends & workers cleaning up space. I love going to Ignite Convention center on the last day with there is no expo and most of the people are already on their way back to their hometown.
I attended two sessions on the last day before wrapping up experience with the event – Microservices architecture with .NET Core, Docker containers, and Azure, and SharePoint and OneDrive better together with Microsoft Teams. I loved both of these sessions with tons of practical guidance and information. As a long time SharePointer, It was interesting to see that I attended only one SharePoint session, and it was the last one on the last day.
Conference Activities and Logistics
The third year in a row, I am impressed with how Microsoft runs their conferences. You will never run out of choices in the midst of the hundreds of activities – 75 minutes breakout sessions, 45 minutes of short breakout sessions, 20 minutes of theatre sessions, expo & evening happy hours, after-event parties, Microsoft product engineering booths, Viewing Lounge, Microsoft mechanics & podcast area, HOLs (Hands-on Labs), Immersion Labs (private 6-8 people, case study focus scenarios) and list goes on.
Every year, I try my best to analyze conference location, logistics, and food. I must say – Orange County Convention center in Orlando is huge and arguably my favorite location. I loved the way the venue had various seating areas (benches, couches, bean bags, etc.) sprinkled throughout the conference building (both indoor & outdoor). The food choices ranged from cold sandwiches to hot meal to an endless supply of beverages. I must say Microsoft Ignite food is getting better at each event.
Microsoft rented both Hyatt & West buildings for this year’s event. Last year a mile-long bridge walk between North/South and West building was a disaster in a toasty Orlando weather. It was great to see Microsoft tried to keep all the sessions in West and Hyatt building reducing overall walk in between sessions.
Just like Orlando last year, Microsoft reserved lodging space in three major areas – Convention Center/Sea World, Universal Studio, and Disney Springs. Microsoft had daily shuttles to transport conference attendees from these remote locations. Since I am not a morning guy, one of my favorite habits has been to live stream first session while commuting to the conference on shuttles. That allowed attendees like me to have the best of all – attend sessions, attend evening parties, & have a relaxed time while commuting to the conference location.
Last but not least, I can’t praise enough Microsoft Ignite Mobile App throughout the conference center. I simply loved way finder in the App from one location to another location in addition to schedule builder/my conference calendar. Microsoft started live-streaming sessions on the Ignite App since last Ignite Atlanta 2016, which not only helped session overflow situation but it also greatly helps if you want to relax in the quiet area and enjoy the session from a distance.
This year’s Microsoft Ignite is probably one of the best conferences I have attended. I must say it’s getting better and better each year. Microsoft has mastered the event management and logistics of location/venue, attendee party, content, and list of activities for 26000+ people. If you haven’t been to Microsoft Ignite, it’s an experience everyone should have.
I attend Microsoft Ignite to learn, to connect, and to be inspired. Every year after Ignite, I am on a technology drugs, watching lot more Ignite videos than I would see without attending it. I would like to extend my special thanks to my current employer (SPR Consulting for picking up the expenses) to allow me to attend this conference and making this happen.