May 26, 2020
Technology Solution Delivery

Microsoft Build 2020: Top 7 Key Learnings

I am beyond impressed with Microsoft.

Last week, they wrapped up hosting 48 hours of non-stop content as part of their annual software developer focused “Build” conference. This year’s gathering was changed to a virtual format, allowing for easy global participation. Additionally, Microsoft made the event free to all (past conferences were $2,000+ to attend), and hosted an impressive variety of keynote speakers, demos, announcements and focus groups.

The entire experience was authentic, thoughtful, inspiring and valuable. It’s a great virtual model to make learning more accessible to all, and the experience left me feeling like I was able to “hang out” and connect with Microsoft experts and Microsoft community members in a meaningful way.

Now that I’ve professed my new found love of Microsoft, I want to share my favorite takeaways from the event. Keeping in mind that there were many sessions I could not attend and a plethora of other interesting ideas and announcements, here are my top seven key learnings from Microsoft Build 2020:

1. Codespaces is on the rise

Codespaces is a cloud-hosted Visual Studio dev environment that is accessible from anywhere. It offers efficient, real-time, remote co-editing an attractive feature since I firmly believe remote work is here to stay. And since this is cloud-based, your dev environment can be suspended when not in use and you only pay for what you use. The ability to empower distributed teams to work better together to build and deploy applications is a compelling case to assess and potentially adopt Codespaces.

Recommendation: Check It Out

2. Serverless Is Mainstream

Serverless has been around for a long time now, but it is no longer a fringe technology or architecture approach. Solution architects and developers should now consider serverless as a pillar for building modern applications. With serverless, the developer does not maintain your own infrastructure, so all the typical tasks associated with the infrastructure such as provisioning, scaling and maintenance are now owned by the cloud service provider (Azure). This means no more capacity planning, patching or infrastructure diagrams for the developer team. As a developer, serverless really appeals to me because I can now focus my attention on the code and building business applications that provide value.

Are there any servers in serverless? Trick question, but yes. The code ultimately still has to run on servers, but serverless technology makes this invisible to developers.

Recommendation: Adopt Immediately

3. Microsoft is heavily investing in Power Platform

The citizen developer trend continues to gain traction. Empowering those professionals who are not traditional programmers to build business applications allows for value creation, and more innovation and ideas to be brought to life.

Microsoft’s Power Platform is a low-code/no-code platform, and consists of the following:

  • Power BI -> data driven insights
  • Power Apps -> low-code/no-code applications
  • Power Automate (formerly known as Flow) -> task automation
  • Power Virtual Agents -> no code AI chat bots

The conference demos showcased Power Apps, and how to build applications connected to Azure data sources — approach now considered legitimate for building business applications.

Demos also highlighted Power Automate, a great option for automating repetitive tasks and an easy way to get started with Robotic Process Automation (RPA). I personally love Microsoft’s marketing approach for this: “Turn outdated into automated.

Recommendation: Adopt Immediately

4. Full Stack .NET with Blazor WebAssembly

Component-based frameworks (e.g. React, Angular, Vue) have been popular for some time now, but I really enjoyed seeing their progress when it comes to building modern web applications by using C# instead of JavaScript. Blazor WebAssembly is an open source web UI for building single page apps and their respective components. The framework gracefully handles UI data binding events and UI updates to provide a modern user experience.

The benefit here with full stack C# is sharing code and libraries on both client side and server side. My favorite feature from demos was the option for Progressive Web Apps which allows the app to use APIs to look and behave like a desktop application. This means it can run in its own app window (not just the web browser) and it provides out-of-the box capabilities to work offline.

Full stack .NET web-development is finally here!

Recommendation: Check It Out

5. Microsoft Teams Growth

An overarching theme for the Build conference was weaving Microsoft Teams into the various keynotes, demos, etc. as much as possible. The drastic growth in Teams use due to remote work was touted many times, and I have those usage statistics committed to memory now.

At Kenway, we have adopted Teams to help with collaboration, chat, video conferencing, etc. My favorite feature is the ability to easily integrate it with other Microsoft apps (e.g. Power BI, Power Apps) and external apps (e.g. Trello, Jira, Asana, GitHub) so that our internal teams can be more productive. We specifically have Teams channels with embedded Power BI apps for analyzing employee engagement.

I’m also particularly interested in learning more about Teams Developer Tools based on the demos I attended. You can build Teams apps and publish publicly or privately to your organization.

As a user of Teams for video conferencing, there are obvious shortcomings and expected features are missing (e.g. Gallery View, Breakout Groups). It works great for smaller audiences (five people or less), but we’ve shifted to other vendors for larger group video calls. Microsoft is actively working to release new features, and I fully expect they will quickly catch up with competitors such as Zoom and Google.

Recommendation: Adopt Immediately

6. No ETL Trend -> Azure Synapse Link

ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) is a well-established development pattern for moving data into enterprise data warehouses. ETL is expensive to develop, hard to maintain, and can occasionally result in stale data.

Azure Synapse Link was just released and promises to get data insights faster without the time and expense to build ETL pipelines. It does this by allowing analytics on transactional/operational databases and bypassing the data warehouse (and hence, ETL). New transactions are automatically synced in real time to a columnar store that’s available and optimized for analytics.

The best part? It doesn’t impact performance on your transactional database! I’ve had many clients ask for a silver bullet like this, and Microsoft just delivered.

Keep in mind that this is brand new and only available for CosmosDB (No SQL database), but support for other Azure cloud databases is expected in the future.

Recommendation: Wait for Adoption

7. Azure Static Web Apps

I decided to save my favorite key learning for last. Azure Static Web Apps is a brand-new Azure product that takes serverless web apps a step further. There isn’t a better technology pattern right now than Static Web Apps to empower developers to go from idea to code to cloud.

My favorite thing (besides that it’s free for hosting static content and offers free SSL certificates) is that it’s globally distributed, highly available, and auto scales. The front- end enables single page applications with favorite JavaScript frameworks (React/Angular/Vue), and dynamic back ends (APIs in Azure Functions).

What I really like about Static Web Apps is that Microsoft is packaging together a common pattern for quickly building/cloud publishing new web apps, and providing integration between GitHub and Azure for a seamless developer experience.

Recommendation: Adopt Immediately

These key learnings barely scratch the surface given all the sessions and new announcements presented at Build 2020. Additional topics that created a lot of buzz were the Fluid Framework and an industry specific cloud for Healthcare. I’m excited to explore these in the coming days.

Did you attend Build 2020? I would love to hear your thoughts and favorite takeaways from this virtual event. Please connect with me on LinkedIn to discuss what you found most interesting or share your key learnings. I look forward to comparing lists!

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