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Microsoft Inspire 2020 sets partner agenda

Microsoft addresses 'digital first responders,' while citing cloud computing, remote work and purpose-driven digital transformation at virtual Inspire 2020.

Microsoft asked partners to focus on remote work, business continuity, security and cloud migration at the company's annual channel event, Microsoft Inspire 2020, held virtually for the first time.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated economic and social effects underpinned much of Microsoft Inspire 2020. Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's corporate vice president of the One Commercial Partner organization, referred to partners as "digital first responders" supporting frontline workers. Partners have been able to rapidly roll out offerings that "didn't exist at the beginning of the year," she said.

Judson Althoff, executive vice president of worldwide commercial business at Microsoft, cited the pandemic's role in compelling organizations to embrace their digital futures. "As an ecosystem, we've seen more digital transformation happen out of necessity in the last two months than we have seen in the last two years alone," he said.

Looking ahead, Althoff said, all digital transformation projects will be "purpose-driven digital." He defined that approach as the "art and science of leveraging technology innovation to drive business and societal outcomes for good."

Althoff said a sense of purpose is what helps organizations persevere in difficult times. Accordingly, projects that bring purpose to digital transformation will prove the longest lasting efforts, he added.

Microsoft Inspire 2020: 4 areas of focus

The company's partner ecosystem priorities for its 2021 fiscal year, which began July 1, reflect the demand for greater digitalization and organizational resiliency stemming from the pandemic.

Judson Althoff, executive vice president, worldwide commercial business, MicrosoftJudson Althoff

In remote work, Microsoft is emphasizing its Teams collaboration platform. Schuster said transitions to Teams are happening in every industry, noting the pandemic has "changed the way we work forever." She said current conditions offer partners "a huge opportunity to come in with a change management and managed services mindset."

Schuster cited Yorktel, a managed service provider that is working with City of Hope, a biomedical research and treatment center for cancer. The facility deployed Teams and Surface Hub in hospital rooms, including COVID-19 isolation units. Yorktel is "managing all the new collaboration tools" for City of Hope, Schuster said.

Gavriella Schuster, corporate vice president, One Commercial Partner organization, MicrosoftGavriella Schuster

As for other remote work opportunities, Schuster said partners can use Microsoft's Power Platform, which includes Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate, to customize Teams deployments.

The cloud priority, meanwhile, dovetails with business continuity. Schuster said organizations want to move to the cloud for business continuity, business agility, efficiency and security. She said the cloud has quickly transformed from an option to an imperative for customers.

The security priority can serve as a managed services entry point, for those channel partners that continue to focus on project-based work, Schuster noted. Customer organizations, she said, realize they need to boost infrastructure security, from the desktop to the data center. She said partners can help customers identify and address security vulnerabilities and use Microsoft security products along with their own offerings to provide managed services.

As an ecosystem, we've seen more digital transformation happen out of necessity in the last two months than we have seen in the last two years alone.
Judson AlthoffExecutive vice president of worldwide commercial business, Microsoft

Jared Dickson, solutions architect at OST, an IT consulting and digital transformation company based in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he is seeing growth in all the priority areas Microsoft identified. OST partners with Microsoft.

"One of the initiatives we're pursuing is the modern workplace," he said. "It's focused on making sure knee-jerk purchases and configurations of communication technologies, such as Teams, have security settings and organizational governance correctly applied and right-sized licensing is in place."

Dickson also noted multiple OST customers are "achieving their goals and keeping employees productive by encouraging the adoption of Microsoft Teams and increasing VPN bandwidth-sensitive resources."

Azure Stack HCI update

The company used Microsoft Inspire 2020 to discuss the next-generation of Azure Stack HCI, a hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) offering. Microsoft said the Azure hybrid service now provides a per-core subscription model and no-cost extended security updates for Windows Server 2008 VMs that run on it.

Nick Parker, corporate vice president at Microsoft, said HCI is becoming "the most dominant architecture in modern data centers." He said Microsoft is taking Azure Stack HCI to the market with partners, citing systems integrators, ISVs, cloud solution providers and device partners. Azure Stack HCI is in public preview.

"There is certainly a niche that Azure Stack HCI fulfills, but I don't see it aligning with where most of our customers are going," Dickson noted. "Even in highly regulated fields, you can generally integrate your day-to-day operations in a cloud-centric way, while critical data and services reside on premises. Once you consider your options, you eventually need to measure your costs to determine where different workloads should be run."

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