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Microsoft cybersecurity strategy, hybrid cloud in focus at Ignite

Microsoft will reveal its latest plans to extend its cybersecurity strategy and a new architectural approach to hybrid clouds during Ignite.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has hinted that the big news at the company's Ignite conference will involve cybersecurity and updates to its approach to hybrid and distributed cloud applications.

"Rising cyber threats and increasing regulation mean security and compliance is a strategic priority for every organization," Nadella said on Microsoft's earnings call for the first quarter of 2020 this week. He highlighted that the company has offerings across identity, security and compliance that span people, devices, apps, developer tools, data and infrastructure "to protect customers in today's zero trust environment."

In addition to Microsoft cybersecurity-related comments, Nadella addressed investor questions about the company's hybrid cloud business.

"Our approach has always been about this distributed computing fabric, or thinking about hybrid not as some transitory phase, but as a long-term vision for how computing will meet the real-world needs," he replied in the call.

Satya NadellaSatya Nadella

Microsoft's hybrid cloud offerings include Azure Stack, which takes a subset of Azure's software foundation and installs it on specialized hardware to be run in customer-controlled environments.

At Ignite, "you will see us take the next leap forward even in terms of how we think about the architecture inclusive of the application models, programming models on what distributed computing looks like going forward," Nadella said.

Microsoft targets cybersecurity, hybrid cloud

Given that cybersecurity and hybrid cloud computing are two of the hottest areas in enterprise tech today, Nadella's teases aren't especially surprising. But the specific details of what Microsoft has planned are worth delving into, analysts said.

It was a bit surprising that Nadella didn't mention Azure Stack in his remarks on the conference call, given the progress that product has made in the market, said Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research in Cupertino, Calif.

However, Ignite's session agenda includes a fair number of Azure Stack sessions, covering matters such as migration planning and operational best practices. One possibility is that Microsoft will announce expansions of Azure Stack's footprint so it's more on par with the Azure cloud's full capabilities, Mueller added. 

Azure CTO Mark Russinovich is scheduled to speak at Ignite on multiple occasions. One session will focus on new innovations in Azure's global architecture and another targets next-generation application development and deployment.

On Twitter, Russinovich said he'll discuss matters such as DAPR, Microsoft's recently launched open source runtime for microservices applications. He also plans to talk about Open Application Model, a specification for cloud-native app development, and Rudr, a reference implementation of the Open Application Model (OAM).

The OAM is a project under the Open Web Foundation. It serves as a specification so the application description is separated from the details of how the application is deployed and managed by the infrastructure 

According to a source familiar with the company's plans, Microsoft released OAM because it is designed to be built by developers but then passed on for execution by an operations team, adding that DAPR is a way to build applications that are designed to be componentized.

"Developers don't have to worry about where (an application) will run," the source said. "They just describe its resource requirements, focus on building a microservices application and not to worry about how each component will communicate with the others," he said. Going into Ignite, the hyperscale cloud market is being driven by a couple of factors, said Jay Lyman, an analyst with 451 Research.

"AWS, Microsoft and Google sort of define the modern enterprise IT operational paradigm with their breadth of services, innovation and competition," Lyman said. "At the same time, the market serves as a discipline for them."

I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft announce something around support for other public clouds.
Jay LymanAnalyst, 451 Research

Hybrid cloud is an example of this, having emerged to meet customer needs to run on-premises infrastructure in a similar manner to public clouds, he added. Azure Stack, Google Kubernetes Engine On-Prem and AWS Outposts are some early answers to the problem.

Meanwhile, Google's Anthos and IBM Red Hat's OpenShift platform target multi-cloud application deployments.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see Microsoft announce something around support for other public clouds," Lyman said.

Microsoft cybersecurity portfolio gains gravity

Some analysts believe Microsoft is already well positioned in the cybersecurity market on the proven reliability of Windows Defender, Active Directory, the Azure Active Directory, Azure Sentinel and Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection.

"Many enterprises trust Microsoft to manage the identities of their users accessing information both from on-prem and cloud-based applications," said Doug Cahill, senior analyst and group director at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) in Milford, Ma. "They're already a formidable cybersecurity competitor," he said.

In a recent survey conducted by ESG, IT pros said one of the most important attributes they look for in an enterprise-class cybersecurity vendor is the reliability of products across their portfolio and that they are "well-aligned" with their particular IT initiatives.

"Obviously, Microsoft is one of the leading IT vendors," Cahill said. "They have Active Directory, which is broadly adopted, serving as a foundational piece of their cybersecurity strategy," he said.

Logically, the next step for Microsoft is to extend its platform out to so it plays across the broader attack surface, which includes the rapidly growing Office 365.

During the earnings call, Nadella ran down what he believes are the individual strengths of the company's cybersecurity offerings. He made special note of the cloud-based Sentinel and its ability to analyze security vulnerabilities across an entire organization using AI to "detect, investigate and automatically remediate threats."

Nadella said the company would reveal more details about its "expanding opportunities in the cybersecurity market" at Ignite.

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