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Microsoft announces more Azure tools and infrastructure improvements at Inspire
by Florin Bodnarescu
Today during its Inspire digital event, Microsoft unveiled a slew of news about not only Dynamics 365, the Power Platform, and Teams, but also infrastructure and tools enhancements for its cloud platform. For easier browsing, we’ll separate the news in this post by availability, rather than by the specific type of Azure service offered.
Solutions now generally available
To begin with, it’s worth highlighting the fact that a number of updates to networking and Azure Migrate have now reached the GA phase. Among them are advanced specializations, training, and PowerShell support for Azure Migrate, as well as the ability to import and create assessments via uploaded Configuration Management Database data inside the same offering.
Although already unveiled a few days ago, Azure shared disks and Disk Storage have now been made generally available, along with some improvements to Azure Private Link, the extension of single-instance VM SLA to all disk types, support for and much more.
Also GA is Microsoft’s supported distribution of Apache Hadoop, which is fully open source and compatible with the latest version of Hadoop. Thanks to this new version, you’ll be able to provision a new HDInsight cluster based on Apache code built and fully supported by the Redmond giant. Existing customers will be migrated automatically to this new supported distribution.
Rounding off this section is HashiCorp, whose HasiCorp Consul Service (HCS) on Azure is set to be made available via the Azure Marketplace on July 23 in multiple regions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. It’s been in private beta since September of 2019.
This particular service allows folks to provision HashiCorp-managed Consul clusters directly via the Azure dashboard. Service discovery, segmentation and mesh across VMs, hybrid, on-premises, and Kubernetes environments is also possible, with operational burden being placed on HashiCorp’s experts rather than the customer.
Solutions available in preview
By far the biggest announcement from Inspire in regards to available previews is the next-generation of Azure Stack HCI (hyperconverged infrastructure).
Being an Azure service, it allows users to manage Stack HCI and other Azure resources side-by-side from the Azure portal, as well as view and manage VMs running on Stack HCI via Azure Arc, a service announced during Ignite 2019 and enhanced earlier this year during Build. Needless to say, the deep integration with other services from Microsoft’s cloud like Backup, Security Center, and Azure Monitor further enhance this offering. According to Microsoft, due to its “flexible per core subscription model”, the savings are rather noticeable:
Azure Stack HCI includes Extended Security Updates for Server 2008 VMs running on it at no additional cost, as well as new features like Stretch Cluster which gives “native high-availability and disaster recovery” to extend clusters from a single site to multiple ones with ease.
Beyond the service itself, which can be used across various environments, there’s also an integrated systems option available to purchase from various partners, among which Intel and Lenovo – who’s bringing Azure Stack HCI to the ThinkAgile MX1021 edge server platform, to name but one. Azure Stack HCI can be run on existing hardware as well, if it matches Microsoft’s validated node solution.
Staying on the subject of cloud services, last access for Blob Storage is now in public preview, enabling folks to see how often and when the data is accessed. On a related note, Blob Storage now supports Network File System (NFS) 3.0 for read-heavy data workloads, also in public preview.
For the aforementioned Azure Migrate, VMware Solutions assessments and app compatibility support is now in public preview as well.
Last but not least, there’s a preview of Azure Data Factory Managed Virtual Network (VNet) support, which allows users to secure the connection between Data Factory and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) data stores in Azure. This is done through a private connection via Azure Private Link.
By Hamza Jawad
Microsoft unveils Flight Simulator Feature Discovery Series, updates development roadmap
by Hamza Jawad
Microsoft has been providing regular updates in regards to its returning Flight Simulator series. A couple of weeks back, Tech Alpha recruitment opened for the series' upcoming title, Microsoft Flight Simulator. And then, last week, the Redmond firm unveiled the release schedule for this testing phase.
Now, Microsoft has released a preview for episode one of the game's Feature Discovery series. For those unaware, this series is centered around the exploration of some of Flight Simulator's features in much greater detail.
As far as the first episode goes, the world that will be offered to players has been discussed. Moving on, the focus will shift towards weather, aerodynamics, and cockpits, in each of the upcoming episodes, respectively. Notably, this preview is only being shown to Insiders, so you'll need to sign up for it if you are interested in learning more about the aforementioned aspects of the title.
Aside from the availability of more details regarding this series, Microsoft has also revealed an updated development roadmap, giving fans a taste of what is in store for the next few weeks. As can be observed above, the Feature Discovery Series will fully kick off on October 10. This is also when phase two for the Tech Alpha seems to be beginning, along with the release of its timeline.
Then, a week later, there is going to be a development roadmap update, much as this one, that previews the schedule for the following couple of months. And finally, on October 25, a new partner feature series will be initiated, along with the launch of the Feedback Pipeline. There will also be some updates for the Insider Program, though not much is known regarding these as of yet.
Notably, an overview of the aforementioned Feedback Pipeline has been pushed to early October, which Microsoft believes will help provide more detail to the deliverable. Stay tuned for more updates on the upcoming title in the next few weeks.
By Hamza Jawad
Revamped look for Power BI Mobile is now available
by Hamza Jawad
Microsoft's recent improvements to Power BI include URL parameters for paginated reports, changes to summarized data export behavior, and new settings to tackle issues related to capacity. The desktop version of the data analytics service also received a host of improvements last month.
Today, the public preview of a new look for Power BI Mobile has been made available. This is primarily intended to make interaction with content quicker and easier for customers on the go. For this reason, a new home page, new navigation bars, and the ability to set your home page theme based upon your organization's branding have been introduced.
Detailing a bit upon each of these, organization branding on the home page now appears in the same way that it does on the desktop version of the service. In other words, custom branding, as defined by Power BI admins in the service, will automatically show up in the mobile app as well.
Furthermore, the home page will provide two tabs - namely, 'Quick Access' and 'Activity'. For now, only the former will be displayed, showcasing your most commonly used items, along with metadata for the associated content. This section will be further sub-divided into two sections, 'Frequents' and 'Recents', with items ordered by most viewed and most recently viewed respectively. With regards to the Activity tab, a feed of events will help users stay up to date on latest happenings relevant to them. More details on this feature will be shared when it is released.
Finally, in-app navigation has been revamped, making it easier to explore the app. More specifically, the "Hamburger" menu in the top-left corner is being replaced with a navigation bar at the bottom, helping efficiently switch between pages. Meanwhile, the top bar will now host a notification and a search icon, with app settings and other features available by clicking on user avatar. Some of the new navigation capabilities can be viewed in the gif below.
If you're interested in trying out the new look, you can opt-in through the introduction banner displayed when you open the app. Alternatively, you can also get the new features by joining the preview through the side panel or in-app settings. Since the new look is currently in preview, Microsoft may add new capabilities or adjust the existing ones based upon your feedback.
You can vote on new feature ideas here, and discuss them on the Power BI Mobile forum as well. If you do not currently have the app on your device, you can download the latest version from the App Store for iOS or Play Store for Android devices.
Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2, Data Explorer are now generally available
by Florin Bodnarescu
After announcing a preview of its next-generation Azure Data Lake Storage solution at the end of June last year, Microsoft then went ahead and integrated it with Azure Databricks. Now, both it and Azure Data Explorer have been made generally available.
Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2
The goal of Gen2 - beyond ensuring the expected performance improvements - was to make Azure Data Lake Storage (ADLS) more compatible with the Apache ecosystem. Now, because ADLS is built on top of Blob Storage, a file system driver was created to achieve the aforementioned compatibility. This driver is integrated into Apache Spark and Hadoop, as well as many other commercial distributions, and the file system semantics are implemented server-side. That last point obviously reduces the complexity of the implementation client-side.
To lower the required compute operations and at the same time increase performance, a hierarchical namespace (HNS) was implemented, which supports both folder operations and atomic file operations. The latter means that a specific operation cannot be partially done - it either is completed, or it fails.
Beyond the different performance enhancements, both data at rest and in transit is TLS 1.2 encrypted, there is role-based access and thus access control lists (POSIX compliant), virtual network integration. ADLS also has storage account firewalls.
The service is tightly integrated into HDInsight, Data Factory, SQL Data Warehouse, Power BI, and others. More information about pricing and capabilities is available on the dedicated page.
Azure Data Explorer
Beyond ADLS, Microsoft also announced today the general availability of Azure Data Explorer, which it positions as a method of analyzing a large amount of streaming data in real time. This is not to be confused with Azure Analysis Services, which allows you to combine data from multiple sources into a single model so it's easier to understand.
According to the company, Azure Data Explorer (ADX) is capable of "querying 1 billion records in under a second" without needing to modify either the data or the metadata.
ADX is designed to take advantage of two services which work concomitantly: the engine, and the data management (DM) service. Both of these are deployed as virtual machines in Azure.
via Azure Blog While the DM service handles raw data ingestion and related tasks, as well as failure management, the engine is in charge of processing the incoming data and serving user queries. To achieve higher performance during operation, the engine combines auto scaling and data sharding.
Azure Data Explorer is available in 41 Azure regions, which don't include West Central US, Germany, or US Gov Iowa.
Azure Data Factory Mapping Data Flow (Preview)
To go along with the services above which have reached GA status, a preview for Mapping Data Flow within Azure Data Factory was made available. For context, Data Factory is a service which allows hybrid data integration from a variety of sources. In other words, folks can move data from various on-premises locations and take advantage of the scalability of the cloud when managing said data.
via Azure Blog As per Microsoft's description, via Mapping Data Flow, folks are able to:
Azure Data Factory is available in 21 Azure regions, with expansions in East Asia, Australia East and others, planned in future. Folks interested in checking up the preview can sign up here.
By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft releases Windows UI Library Preview for UWP app developers
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft continually releases new tools and updates to its existing software to make it easier for developers to build Windows 10 apps. Now, the company has announced the Windows UI (WinUI) Library Preview for developers building apps for its Universal Windows Platform (UWP).
WinUI allows developers to access and use Fluent controls, styles, and other UWP XAML controls via NuGet packages. This release is important because previously, the UWP XAML app development framework was made available and updated only through the Windows and SDK rollout, which severely limited its potential.
Furthermore, other advantages of these NuGet packages is that they facilitate developers in building "version adaptive" apps, software that can target multiple releases of Windows 10 and is backward-compatible from Windows 10 version 1607 to the latest Insider builds.
WinUI's contents include Fluent Design components like Acrylic material and Reveal highlighting. It also features the TreeView control as a separate class, allowing for more freedom of use across different versions of Windows 10, as well as more features than the standard SDK. Furthermore, it contains new controls like MenuBar and CommandBarFlyout too. Lastly, it boasts the Microsoft.UI.Xaml.Core.Direct package, which is a standalone WinRT library, offering lower-level access to the XAML framework.
Microsoft is currently releasing WinUI packages as prerelease, however, future rollouts will also include RTM versions. The company says that:
You can find out more by heading to the documentation page here.