Rencore TechTalks: Episode 9 – Favorites from Microsoft Build and SharePoint Virtual Summit

In this episode, Tobias Zimmergren is sharing his favorite 5 things that were announced at the Microsoft Build and SharePoint Virtual Summit events that both happened recently.

As an added incite to this show, we also invited a few of the community heroes and experts to share some of their favorite announcements from these conferences, which you’ll hear about in this episode.

Listen to this show to hear about some of my favorite key takeaways from these events, including:

  • Azure Cloud Shell 
  • Azure Snapshot Debugging 
  • Azure Cosmos DB 
  • OneDrive files on-demand 
  • New Admin Center in SharePoint Online 
  • Key takeaways from our community heroes, including: 
    • Stefan Bauer 
    • Mark Rackley 
    • Erwin van Hunen 
    • Mikael Svenson 
    • Paolo Pialorsi 
    • John White 
    • Paul Schaeflein 

[Recorded 2017-05-26]

Show notes:

Full transcript

[Tobias] = Tobias Zimmergren
[Stefan] = Stefan Bauer
[Mark] = Mark Rackley
[Erwin] = Erwin van Hunen
[Mikael] = Mikael Svenson
[Paolo] = Paolo Pialorsi
[John] = John White
[Paul] = Paul Schaeflein

[Tobias:] This time I’m going to talk briefly about some of my favorite announcements from the Build Conference and from the Virtual SharePoint Summit that happened recently. I’ve also asked a few of our fellow community members around the world to answer the question about what their key takeaway from Build and SharePoint Virtual Summit was, so we’ll here a few words from these guys throughout the show as well.

So kicking this off with some of my own favorites from Build around the Azure stuff and then running up with the SharePoint stuff given that more and more things happen in the cloud and I’ve spent the last few years almost exclusively working on these areas. Here are my personal takeaways to keep an eye out for when it comes to the Azure stuff.

So Azure Cosmos DB, this is the successor to DocumentDB if you’ve ever tried that. Azure Cosmos DB natively supports multiple data models and that also included documents like you had in, for example, DocumentDB but also Key-value, graph, and column family. So the core content model of Cosmos DB’s database engine is based on something called the ARS or the Atom-record-sequence.

The database engine can translate different data models into the ARS base data model and when it’s translated into the ARS data model you can work with it in Cosmos DB and it’s going to take care of that for you. So the core data model of Cosmos DB is natively accessible from dynamically typed program languages and that also means you can be exposing it as is as Jason, very simple. So it’s a very versatile database platform if you will.

The service also supports popular database API for Data Access and Query. Cosmos DB’s database engine currently supports Document DB, SQL, MongoDB, Azure Tables, and that feature is still in preview, and also Gremlin which is also in preview. I’m very intrigued by this since I have a lot of stuff floating around myself in Azure Storage Tables and other various sources relating to what can be done in Cosmos and I’m very keen on trying out this new Cosmos DB and see how it matches into the current models that I’m using in my projects.

The other cool feature from Azure is called the Azure Snapshot Debugger. The Snapshot Debugger takes a snapshot of your input doc on Azure App and when an exception occurs or at other points of interest it lets you see exactly what went wrong or whatever it is that you want to investigate without actually impacting traffic off of your production application. So it’s a debugger for your production cloud and it’s very functional and it has its place right up there on my favorite list.

Instead of debugging your actual production data, when it happens with your production processes which you could then block, your snapshot is what’s going to be debugged. So you snapshot what’s in production right now and then you can fiddle with that data and you can debug the snapshot all you want and an exact replica of what you have in production is going to be inside of that snapshot. From a tech point of view, this happens. When your application starts there’s a separate snapshot uploader process that is created to monitor your application for snapshot requests. When a snapshot is requested a shadow copy of the running process is made and then this shadow process is analyzed and a snapshot is created while the main process actually continues to run and service traffic to users. The snapshot is then uploaded and you can get application insights along with any PDB files if you want to debug that stuff.

Personally, this is a great announcement and something that I will definitely keep an eye on for sure. The most important reason for that is that you can actually, like you did with Visual Studio before you could attach a process to your production in Azure and start debugging it, you can essentially do that but you’re not attaching to the production process, you’re attaching it to a separate snapshot process that is a replica of whatever you have in production. So you’re not intervening with whatever happens in your production process so that keeps running.

My final Azure announcement that I really liked amongst a lot of them, there’s a long list of things I really liked from the Build conference. However, to do with the top 3 list, the Azure Cloud Shell is something that provides a browser-based shell experience. So you’re going to essentially run CLI’s, command line interfaces, for Azure and whatever it is that you normally do through the CLI. You can run that now from the Azure portal and it really simplifies, if you really have to do something quickly and you don’t have the tools on your current machine for whatever reason, you can launch portal.Azure.com and you’re going to have it right there at your fingertips. You can just launch it.

So, Microsoft maintains an update to Cloud Shell on your behalf which also means you don’t need to keep your CLI up-to-date if you only want to use a Cloud Shell. It comes with commonly used CLI tools like different Shell interpreters, Azure tools, Text Editor, Control built tools, container tools, and all kind of cool stuff.

So, wherever you’re used to working likely it already exists in the Cloud Shell as well and if not, it’s probably coming. It also includes language support for popular programming languages like Node.js, .net, and Python. Also, the Azure CLI or command-line interface 2 is baked into the Cloud Shell. So, the Azure CLI 2.0 was announced a while back and has a lot of improvements for working with the stuff you have in Azure.

This means that when you visit your Azure portal and launch the CLI through the new Cloud Shell you do not have to authenticate nor do you need to keep up the CLI or the keep the CLI up-to-date. What you see there is always going to be the latest bits running or at least the latest tested or released bits running. One thing that I want to point out here, though, with bash or the Shell that you can do stuff in your Azure subscription straight out the browser you’re already authenticated. So if you’re the co-admin or the global admin of your Azure subscription you’re going to have pretty much power to do whatever you want. Please don’t go into your production environment and test things out using the Cloud Shell. Use that or do that in your Dev- only subscriptions where you can figure things out and how they work. Because I imagine there will be some difficulties if we start going into the production environment and start typing commands because there’s a new feature there. So, use caution.

And there we have it. Those are my top 3 favorite announcements on the Azure site. There are a few things happening on the SharePoint specific side as well including 2 of my favorites. Where the first one is the new SharePoint Admin Center. In SharePoint Admin Center in SharePoint Online, it’s finally getting a revamp. For many years it’s stayed the same and Microsoft is finally announcing that they’ve started or will start rolling out a new Office 365-like UI for the SharePoint Admin Center as well with a better UI than we currently have.

As of this recording, however, my own tenants are still on the old UI but I can’t wait to get started with the new magical experience that is the wonders of SharePoint Administration, whatever that means. But I really do like the announcement there and I did see some screenshots and Bill Baer wrote a blog post in tech communities. I’m going to put that link in the show notes. You can check it out yourself if it hasn’t arrived in your own tenants yet. I am hoping, though, that pretty symbol see that update in the SharePoint Admin Center.

The 2nd thing about SharePoint is actually related to the new capabilities of OneDrive. So, Jeff Teper, CVP at Microsoft Office OneDrive, and the SharePoint teams made an announcement in the blog recently after the event and the SharePoint Virtual Summit about the new capabilities in OneDrive. Now, this is hopefully going to be a big hit for OneDrive as this has been very, very long awaited. Number one here is OneDrive Files on demand. With files on demand, you can access all the files you have in the cloud without downloading them and use the storage space on your device. So all the files you have, even the ones online, can be seen in File Explorer and just works like every other file on the device. This will be delivered with Windows 10 Fall creators update. There has been a user voice suggestion since June 2015, which is a long time ago, requesting exactly this which has more than 25,000 votes. Holy cow, talk about an anticipated feature coming to life. Now I’m just hoping that the implementation will be as good as the promise. There you have it, folks, that my top 5 favorites from the recent events of Microsoft. Namely, The Azure Cosmos DB, the Azure Snapshot Debugger, Azure Cloud Shell and on the SharePoint side it’s the new SharePoint Admin Center and OneDrive’s new capabilities.

On top of that we’ve reached out to a few friends in the community asking about their key takeaways, so here’s what some of our friends said. Let’s hear what Stefan Bauer, a Microsoft MVP had to say about the recent announcement:

[Stefan:] The announcement that has most impacted my work actually, are all the announcements about the SharePoint Framework. For example, in future, we’ll see something that is called SharePoint Framework Extensions. This brings a lot of benefits because through this SharePoint Framework Extensions we’ll have functionalities like Js link that we currently have on the classic pages to the modern user experience’s pages. Also included in this SharePoint Framework Extensions is the possibility to add a custom header and a custom footer section to any page in SharePoint. This announcement is great because this will help to improve the speed to bring our customers from the classic user experience much faster to the modern user experience. Beside that SharePoint Framework Extensions, another huge announcement from my perspective is that Microsoft is currently working on a Microsoft Graph client for the SharePoint Framework because this then lets us include in Web parts all data from Office 365 in our Web Parts. And the user experience will be more seamless than it is now because currently, you get an additional authorization dialogue.

From a personal perspective, a really huge announcement on Build was the availability or the announcement that Microsoft is currently working on a fluent design system which will first become available on Windows 10 devices. And I’m really keen to see how this will impact future user interfaces and user interactions, not only on the desktop computer but on mobile devices and how all these fluent design systems will also influence the user experience on our current web interfaces.

[Tobias:] So that was Stefan Bauer on the SharePoint Framework Extensions, Microsoft Graph, and Fluent Design System. Next up is some thoughts from Mark Rackley, another SharePoint MVP.

[Mark:] So looking back at Build 2017 and the Virtual SharePoint Summit, I’d have to say the announcement that most impacts me would be the announcements about the enhancements to the SharePoint Framework. Especially, field customizers and custom actions. Bringing this functionality to the SharePoint Framework is getting closer and closer to feature parity with what we had before with Sandboxed Solutions in our script injections and other features. So, this is really exciting stuff and I’m looking forward to all the customizations and applications and solutions we get to build on these enhancements.

[Tobias:] So that was Mark Rackley on the enhancements to the SharePoint Framework as well. With Field customizers and custom actions being a big thing. Next, in line, we’ve got Erwin Van Hunen from Rencore and also a Microsoft MVP and MCM sharing his thoughts.

[Erwin:] Hi, Erwin here. The biggest impact I would say given the announcements that have been made at Build and the SharePoint Summit is that it’s now hard to deny we’re moving towards a world based on open source technology. We’re moving away from propriety technology that used to be our world based on Visual Studio, and C#, and the client- side object model etc. We’re moving away from that and we’re moving towards like that, we’re moving towards JavaScript and the biggest impact I would say is especially for someone that has been working with SharePoint as long as I have been is that, I’m trying to catch up all these new things like gulp, etc. they were pretty new to me and I’m learning constantly and I’m seeing how to implement them, how to use them, and it’s all new to me and it’s an exciting change.

There are so many new things happening, new for me, at least. Those technologies have been out there for years already and it’s very refreshing to see that Microsoft is now moving away from building their own things for everything and moving towards like, ‘’Why not reuse what’s out there for years already and just implement all those tools and products and technologies into the existing SharePoint platform?’’ I think it’s a great and exciting change. So, I’m actually looking forward to the future where we’re going.

[Tobias:] Thank you, Erwin, for that. So moving away from the traditional stuff and moving into JavaScript and a lot of other new stuff. Coming from the traditional SharePoint perspective obviously there’s a lot to learn like Erwin says and I agree. There’s still a lot to learn.

Next up is Michael Svenson, another SharePoint MVP. Let’s see what his thoughts are.

[Michael:] There are new capabilities coming all the time nowadays so my highlights from Build and the SharePoint Summit which will impact my current workday has to be one, more accessibility points for the SharePoint Framework and two, communication sites which I think look awesome.

They sort of go hand to hand as we’re now getting the tools to create just the way we want them and then of course, within supporter boundaries. I also do a lot of work configuring sites and groups of frontend users. So I welcome now more Microsoft Graph API’s are supporting App-only permissions and app-only delegated permissions. Delegate is a great end-user app, app-only for backend orchestration and that’s where I live most of the times these days.

[Tobias:] Thank you, Michael, for that. Communication sites, SharePoint Framework extensibility which is a hot topic these days, obviously, and app-only permissions for Microsoft Graph which is a very welcomed change.

Next up we have Paolo Pialorsi who is another Microsoft MVP who’s sharing his thoughts. Let’s see what he has to say.

[Paolo:] Well, actually there are many announcements that impact my work and not just one. From an Office 365 and SharePoint development perspective, for sure the most welcome new capabilities are the new extensions for SharePoint Framework which include the application customizers, the field customizers and the common sets for example. Of course, also the new communication site template that is used in SharePoint online and which will be full of new client-side Web Parts, it’s a very good option. I really look forward to playing with it in real customer’s projects.

But also the capability to connect existing sites for Office 365 groups is really powerful and challenging for me. It implies that sooner or later, in my opinion, we will be surrounded by Office 365 groups everywhere which is really cool. And from an IT pro perspective, I really love the new service level encryption using customer keys capability which will allow many customers who are still on premises to move to the cloud in a confident way keeping their privacy safe. Last but not least, I have to admit that I really love the community services and the new improvements introduced at Build. So, we have an awesome future ahead.

[Tobias:] That is true, we do have an awesome future ahead, Paolo. Again, SharePoint Framework’s extensions is a very popular subject coming out of the recent announcements. Moving on, we have John White, yet another Microsoft MVP who’s now back on the show sharing his thoughts. Let’s hear what he has to say.

[John:] There were a bunch of things that came out of the Virtual Summit and Build the last couple of weeks that for me personally are going to be critical. I think the biggest thing for me personally was all of the changes around OneDrive and the biggest of which was the ability to share directly from Window Explorer and if you mark obviously with the user.

But for me, I don’t know how much time I’ve lost when I needed to share something having to change modalities, flip over to a browser and hopefully, the thing works. So, having that seamless experience right within Files Explorer is going to be a very big deal. I think it’s going to drive adoption because users don’t like having that sudden change of focus, that change of interface. They’re used to right-clicking on things? They’ll be able to do that to share to external users. That’s fantastic because while we’re on OneDrive the ability to have the return of the placeholder, it’s called, but it’s much better with these files on demand capability.

I personally have a bug right now in one of my OneDrive for business accounts. I’ve got about 4 terabytes of storage, so absolutely none of my devices have—well, one of my devices has the capacity to store all of that stuff. But most of them don’t, so knowing what’s there and what’s not there, and having that in your face and having the ability to bring down individual items on a case by case basis very, very easily is rather crucial to me. I do not undersell the other things but to keep it short, those will impact me rather personally.

But from a customer’s standpoint or a community standpoint, I don’t know how many times I get asked about the new Power BI Web Part. The ability to plank down a Web Part on a modern SharePoint page and put in Power BI report and then the first question I of course get is, ‘’Will that work On Premises?’’ and then answer is, ‘’No, it’s not.’’ And the reason it doesn’t is that On Premises doesn’t have SPFX. And with feature pack 2 bringing SPFX down on Premises, we’re one step closer to having that Web Part available. I don’t know if it will be there or not yet, or it will be delivered alongside feature pack 1 because the modern experience isn’t, but it is just a modern Web Part so conceivably it could be. I don’t know but at least we’re one step closer to having it there.

Of course a whole bunch of other really cool things like PowerApps embedded in SharePoint pages, better integration with Flow etc. A lot of things that are going to impact both me and my customers but I have to say I think those are my top 3.

[Tobias:] Thank you, John, for that. Again, the new capabilities in OneDrive coming up and Files on demand which is awesome. Finally, we have Paul Schaeflein who’s another Microsoft MVP who is sharing his thoughts. Here’s what he has to say.

[Paul:] The announcement that will impact me the most is application customizers. This is a part of the SharePoint Framework that will allow me to run client-side JavaScript and every page within the SharePoint site and SharePoint Online. Many of my clients are begging for this type of capability to either enhance navigation or provide utilities to customers on all their sites. And a bonus announcement, none of this necessarily from the Build conference, but there is aka.ms/spfx-vs-extension will take you to a Visual Studio extension to help you build your SharePoint Framework components. Thanks for having me.

[Tobias:] Alright, folks. There we have it. That was great fun to catch up with these champions of the community about what they’re thinking and all the different expectations that rhymes actually with one another on the stuff coming out of Microsoft as of late. There’s a lot of announcements and there’s a lot of things happening in Azure, the general cloud business in SharePoint. I can’t wait to see what happens down the road from here.I hope you enjoyed this episode and I’ll see you again soon. Over and out, Tobias.

I hope you enjoyed this episode and I’ll see you again soon. Over and out, Tobias.

About the author

Tobias is the product manager responsible for the cloud analysis architecture of the Rencore platform. He has the lead on building a cloud platform for Rencore, where our customers can securely and easily use our tools and offerings as services on demand. For his contributions to the technical Microsoft communities as a blogger, speaker, and developer, Tobias is a recipient of the Microsoft MVP award since 2008