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Microsoft Ignite System Center Roundup

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Ignite isn’t just a technology event, is a map of the universe for customers and partners interacting with the Microsoft solar system. The megashow went down in September in Atlanta with 300+ exhibitors, 25,000+ attendees, and 1400+ technical sessions.

Adaptiva was proud to be a Platinum sponsor for the second year in a row. When I wasn’t chatting with attendees eager to know more about our solutions for Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager, I attended ConfigMgr sessions myself.

In this blog, I provide some high-level takeaways about trends in the Microsoft ecosphere generally, and with ConfigMgr specifically.

Adaptiva's Platinum Sponsor Booth at Microsoft Ignite 2016 in Atlanta

Broader Microsoft Trends

Customer Feedback Feeds Everything

I heard speakers from Microsoft saying over and over in different contexts how eagerly Microsoft is listening to customers. This is really visible in the ConfigMgr space where everything Microsoft does seems to be driven by customer feedback. I don’t know what’s going on in Redmond, but I haven’t seen them this overtly customer-focused since back in the 90s. In addition to aggressively soliciting and responding to customer feedback, they are using anonymized telemetry data intelligently to shape development of products and services. It’s nice to see such a large company so actively engaged.

Everything is a Service

Microsoft is officially classifying the following as services: Azure, Office 365, Windows Upgrade Analytics, Windows as a Service, Windows Store for Business, Windows Update for Business, Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection, Health Attestation, Operations Management Suite, Azure Active Directory, and Microsoft InTune.

It’s not just about the cloud, it’s about delivering new features and improved reliability—faster and relentlessly. This trend is also taking over on-premise software such as Windows 10. The days of buying software are numbered.

Happy attendee at Adaptiva's Microsoft Ignite 2016 booth

SCCM/ConfigMgr Trends

Windows as a Service (WaaS)

This was probably the hottest topic at Ignite because … Windows. It’s not entirely new to call Windows a service, but there is some new information and a more clear story:

Death to big deployments. Once you’re on Windows 10, you’ll just get updates and you’ll never need to deploy a new version of Windows again. “After 10 never again!” (That’s my phrase, not Microsoft’s, and honestly I was not trying to rhyme there….)

More frequent builds that are easier to deploy. This is also a key to the “service” designation: faster new builds, and much easier deployments and updates.

Your needs met faster. Microsoft will be getting more user feedback, plus telemetry, and incorporating it faster in releases. In theory customers will get the feature they most want, and more quickly.

The Windows Branches Finally Make Sense

Everybody was saying that Microsoft was pushing testing out to customers instead of spending countless months or years in QA for every release, and now Microsoft is basically agreeing. Of course they still do plenty of QA, but they roll out to customers faster now.

It’s smart. Other companies are doing it too. It’s how the industry works now. It allows Microsoft to deliver new features faster, get better feedback, and respond faster.

This actually makes sense.

Current Branch: Pilot

  • Get new features faster at a slightly higher risk of finding bugs
  • For IT staff, QA folks, & self-sufficient users (who don’t need to call the help desk)

Current Branch for Business: Deploy

  • Comes out roughly four months after each Current Branch release
  • Get new features slower, but key bugs (if any) have been found/fixed
  • For nearly everybody

Long Term Servicing Branch: Not-so-much

  • Feature-frozen, just get security updates
  • For hardly anybody (Factories, ATMs, etc.)
Deepak Kumar of Adaptiva speaking at Microsoft Ignite 2016

Windows Cumulative Updates

We’ve all heard the horror stories. Updates will be cumulative, so they’ll grow and grow every month and you’ll have to send lots of data over your WAN to update Windows. I blogged about it a little while ago. It is a big deal, but Microsoft is working hard to reduce the impact in a couple of ways I’ll explain below.

Quality Updates vs. Feature Updates

Quality Updates

  • Est Size: currently at 1GB and growing for Win 10, now starting for Win 7 and 8 too.
  • Single CU every patch Tuesday for security and bug fixes – no new features
  • Other Tuesdays may have additional updates with new non-security fixes
  • Sign up for the Security Update Validation Program to get preview versions of security releases

Feature Updates

  • Est size: 3.5GB
  • Come two to three times per year (twice in 2017 projected)
  • Maintain existing settings and apps, allow for easy rollback
  • Microsoft is updating ConfigMgr, MDT, WSUS, WUB, etc. for this—goal is to make it easy
  • Microsoft says, “You just think about your rings, start with a small set of users and deploy more and more broadly based on internal feedback”

To ease the pain of distribution of quality updates, Microsoft is providing Express Packages to deliver only the changed bits, reducing the network impact and improving the speed of delivering cumulative updates. Express packages are currently available for most distribution methods, but not ConfigMgr yet. A recent tweet from the product team suggests we could see Express Packages support in ConfigMgr as soon as this year.

Microsoft is also officially promoting the use of peer-to-peer technologies to ease the network burden of distributing both quality and feature updates, as well as to make the process go faster. More on this topic will be revealed soon—it’s an area where Adaptiva OneSite™ leads the pack and can make short work of huge deployments.

Performers from the Atlanta Drum Academy at Adaptiva's booth at Microsoft Ignite 2016

Upgrade Analytics

This is a cloud service for enterprises that lets IT departments plan and manage Windows 10 Deployments. It makes it easy to see which Windows 7/8/8.1 systems are good to go for the upgrade. It checks things like system-, application-, and driver-readiness. It’s free, but requires an Azure subscription and authorization to collect telemetry data.

You get a visual project flow from start to finish, inventory (including applications), listings of compatibility issues and fixes, and more. Data can be exported to ConfigMgr. For implementation details, here’s a nice article from deploymentresearch.com.

So much more…

This was just a quick look at some of the higher level topics. Ignite was a great event, with a lot of fantastic connections and deep tech learning. If you want to search for sessions, watch them on demand here.

Less important, but arguably more fun, the Adaptiva booth and party once again received rave reviews. Although nobody raved about us more than the winner of the Harley-Davidson Sportster we gave away!

Deepak Kumar announcing prize giveaways at Adaptiva's private party at Microsoft Ignite 2016
A guest at Adaptiva's private party at Microsoft Ignite 2016 takes a selfie with the Atlanta Drum Academy

Check out our videos and photos from Ignite here:
See Ignite Highlights

Bill Bernat
Director of Product and Content Marketing, Adaptiva

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