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Microsoft Inspire 2021 takes on 'era of rapid change'

The vendor kicked off its virtual event with new visions for its technologies, aimed at aligning with a world where digital adoption has skyrocketed.

At its annual partner conference, Microsoft brought out a bevy of technology developments, including a wider scope for Teams integration, a cloud PC and an investment in specialized clouds.

The developments are the software and cloud provider's response to a decisive shift to digital adoption. Speaking at Microsoft Inspire 2021, CEO Satya Nadella cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a "heartbreaking" experience, but one that also provided a catalyst for "an era of rapid change" globally.

Satya Nadella, CEO of MicrosoftSatya Nadella

"There is no going back to digital adoption levels of two years ago," Nadella said. "There is only going forward."

For Microsoft's 400,000-plus partners, the task ahead is to guide customers through the ongoing transition to hybrid work and learning environments, Microsoft executives noted.

Teams integrates with Dynamics 365, Viva

To that end, Microsoft unveiled new or expanded tools. In collaboration technology, Microsoft linked its Teams platform with Microsoft Dynamics. Teams customers can view and edit Dynamics 365 data in Teams for no additional fee and without a Dynamics 365 license, the company said.

The integration makes Dynamics 365 a second part of the Teams suite, "enabling a lot more collaboration across customers, clients, employees and sales channels," said Mahadeva Bisappa, principal architect at SPR, a digital transformation consultancy and Microsoft Partner based in Chicago.

Bisappa also pointed to Teams linkage with Microsoft Viva, an employee experience platform Microsoft launched in February 2021. The integration makes Viva's capabilities available through Teams. Such developments underscore Teams' role "as the new front end for remote and hybrid work," he noted.

Windows 365: A hybrid OS

Nadella also unveiled Windows 365, which he said introduces the cloud PC as a "new category." He called Windows 365 a hybrid OS, accessible on devices and the cloud. Organizations, he said, can set up a cloud PC and "stream the full Windows experience from the Microsoft cloud to a personal or corporate device."

There is no going back to digital adoption levels of two years ago. There is only going forward.
Satya NadellaMicrosoft CEO

Windows 365, slated for availability by the end of 2021, is based on Azure Virtual Desktop, formerly Windows Virtual Desktop. It will spin up Windows 10 and Windows 11 virtual desktops, once the latter becomes available.

"With the announcement around Windows 365, Teams integration with Dynamics, Viva and Windows 11, Microsoft is equipping its partner ecosystem with the technologies to align with the new world of hybrid work," said Tony Guidi, senior vice president of strategic partnerships at Core BTS, an MSP and Microsoft Partner based in Indianapolis.

Those developments align with Core BTS' ongoing efforts to maximize clients' Microsoft investments, Guidi added.

Sustainability focus

Specialized clouds also emerged as a focus for Microsoft at its partner event.

"No two digital transformations are alike," said Judson Althoff, Microsoft executive vice president and chief commercial officer. He noted that customers from different industries require differing offerings.

However, Althoff cited a more horizontal offering, Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, as an "opportunity for partners to build on the promise of digital transformation."

Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability, available as a preview, aims to help organizations measure carbon emissions and establish sustainability goals. Microsoft plans to advance the sustainability cloud as a new business process category, seeking to make it as critical as CRM is to the sales process, Nadella said.

The Microsoft Inspire 2021 virtual event also featured an undercurrent of a different type of sustainability, one that focuses on human capital and talent management, noted Brendan Walsh, senior vice president of partner relations at 1901 Group, an MSP and wholly owned subsidiary of Leidos.

Microsoft, for example, plans to boost its investment in digital technology skill training as part of its partner support effort.

"I like the sustainability thread," Walsh said, citing the importance of workforce development, skilling and reskilling.

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