This will be my final post on my experiences at Ignite. It is Friday morning and as I sit in my hotel room waiting to head to the airport, I have to say I am a little sad. As I think back to everything I saw and heard and seeing all the people from all different countries and industries in one place at one time it is somewhat surreal. This was an amazing experience and I publicly want to thank my employer Skyline for giving me this opportunity to attend such an immense event as this (see what I did there?).
OK, so day 4 was mainly an Expo day. As I mentioned earlier, the Expo is where vendors and partners setup their booths. It is also where Microsoft sets up their showcases. The showcases are essentially booths, but they are product or service specific and are managed by the program or product managers that work on that product or service. This means you get face time with the folks who actually are responsible for that software you are using or want to use. There is no better place to get information than right from the “horse’s mouth”.
I use Thursday as an expo day because I like to take what I have learned, typically at a high level, from the breakout sessions and then go to the showcases to ask questions and dig deeper. For instance, if you read my day 3 post you know that I was able to get an answer to a customer question that I was struggling with, and I didn’t have to open a support ticket to do it.
Today in the showcase I learned about the newly announced Web Application Firewall (WAF) enhancements that Microsoft is adding to their Application Gateway (AG). AG has been generally available for a while, but the WAF feature is brand new and is currently in public preview. For those who don’t know, the Application Gateway is essentially a Layer 7 load balancer. This allows admins to setup application-based rules for load balancing and make the load balancer application aware. While a Layer 4 load balancer is only checking to see if the host serving the application is online, a Layer 7 load balancer not only checks the host but also the application itself. For instance, assume you have two web servers serving up your public website, and you want to put a load balancer in front of the pair in order to distribute load, provide some high availability, and fault tolerance. In the case of a Layer 4 load balancer, it will check to see if the web servers themselves are up and running but it won’t actually communicate with the website. This means that a given web server could be responding to the load balancer as up even though IIS or the application pool has died causing the site to be down on that server. This ends in a user getting an error page in their browser when going to your site, but then they click refresh (depending on site and load balancer settings) they hit the server that is up and get to your site. Not a great experience. This is where the Layer 7 load balancer shines, it actually runs a check against the site itself. If the site does not return a 200 OK response, then the load balancer removes that server from the group until the site is back online.
The new feature of the application gateway is WAF which means that not only does it do a better job of fault tolerance, but it will check for things like SQL injection, cross site scripting and other common attacks on the OWASP top 10 list of internet attacks. I will tell you that from my discussions at the showcase, the first iteration is good but not great. However, I can tell you that they are already working on what it will take to make it great. Here is where I want to put in a plug for public feedback. Microsoft is listening folks. If you use a product and wish it could do something, tell them. At least 50% of new features added to Azure services are due directly to public feedback. This has been a huge step in getting the services and features that we need and it has been awesome.
After the showcase time I decided to intentionally walk all the rows and aisles of the massive expo to try and at least see all the different vendors. This is no small feat considering the sheer number of vendors and the layout of the expo. It is not a normal grid, and I can only imagine they do that on purpose. The more lost you get, the more time you spend there and end up seeing something you maybe didn’t intend on seeing. And let me tell you it worked. At one point I stopped to just look and see where I was and where I have been while trying to figure out where to go next and as I was doing that, one of the vendors closest to me came over and said “want to sign up for our drawing, you don’t have to be present to win”. Well of course I said yes but then I noticed that their product was related to Microsoft Azure and Office 365 which are what I work on so I ended up talking to them. Smart Ignite organizers, very smart.
One thing I came away with during my walkabout was how vast the diversity of vendors there are. Some have products that are so niche that they apply to such a small portion of marketplace yet it is a niche that is needed and here they are. Then there are those whose products are vast and they have huge booths with big giveaways and someone called an ‘Info-Tainer’. This is someone who entertains you while telling you about the product. The most common of which are illusionist acts. I was able to take a moment and talk to one while he was on a break. I had to tell him how good he was. He was very entertaining and his act was hilarious, he really knew how to read the crowd and be playful while at the same time get us interested in the company he was hired by. Most people, myself included, will maybe spend 1-3 minutes or less at any given booth, but the ones that have a presentation like that, folks will hang out for 10 minutes or more and what happens is that they use inertia in their favor. See when you are walking around, you typically want to stay walking. I don’t want to stop to hear a pitch, just give me your swag and let me go on my way. But you stop me to see a funny and/or interesting presentation and the law of rest kicks in. Subconsciously you are now more open to the demo or deeper conversation because, well, you are already stopped so why not stay for a little longer.
I think one of the bigger highlights for me this year was I was able to meet Corey Sanders who is the Director of Program Managers for Microsoft Azure IaaS and Cloud Services and the host of my favorite video blog – Tuesdays with Corey. It was an honor to meet him and ask him questions about Azure and what is coming. An experience I won’t soon forget.
I was also able to meet AC and CJ – the hosts of the Microsoft Cloud Show podcast. I haven’t seen the show before this week, but I was coerced into meeting them by one of my leaders here at Skyline so that I could get some stickers for him. After meeting and talking with them a bit about what the show covers, I decided to watch a recent episode and now I am hooked. They do a great job.
Well, that wraps up my series on Ignite 2016. It was a great event and I hope this series helped you to learn about this event and see why you need to get to Ignite 2017 which will be in Orlando, Florida next September. Thanks for reading!