Microsoft Ignite 2019 – The Great Marketing Shift

The Ennui of Success

In 2018, I attended Microsoft Ignite and one of the things I noticed during the keynote was how stale everything seemed. Satya appeared to not only be lacking in excitement, but also clearly overcompensating by trying to be super excited about boring things. It was painful to watch and I thought perhaps we were witnessing the beginning of the end for Satya’s tenure as the CEO of Microsoft. His mission in many ways had been accomplished. The culture at Microsoft had been irrevocably altered, the product direction and priorities shifted to accommodate our service based economy, and their market cap was set to crest $1 trillion. If Satya was planning to leave on a high note, this would definitely qualify.

SPOILER ALERT: Satya did not leave. The stock price had not peaked, in fact since September of 2018 it has grown 31%. While the keynote may have been a weak showing, Microsoft itself had never been healthier and more profitable. And since stock price is an indicator of future potential, all signs point to a bright outlook for Redmond.

I think what happened last year was simply feature exhaustion. By which I mean, the bulk of the announcements were simply additional features on existing products or simple iterations. Server 2019 is great I’m sure, but it isn’t the quantum leap from 2003 to 2008. There were a ton of improvements in Azure services, but these were mostly cool features. There was nothing bombastic to get people excited.

Rename all the things!

The solution this year was to rename everything. No better way to make something seem new than to rename it and pretend it’s a brand new service with all these cool features, rather than a newer version of an existing product. And so we have before us the great rebranding of 2019.

Azure Stack -> Azure Stack Hub
Databox Edge -> Azure Stack Edge
Config Mgr + Intune -> Microsoft Endpoint Management
Azure Data Warehouse -> Project Synapse
Microsoft Flow -> Power Automate

While Edge did not get a new name, it did get a new soul (Chromium) and a new logo. There are probably some more that I am forgetting at the moment. My point is that these are not new products in any realistic sense. They are all rebrands of existing products. But during the keynote, Satya and team made no attempt to link the old product name to the new. To an outside observer the effect was that Microsoft had just launched a ton of brand new services.

There is one exception to point out and that is Azure Arc. Details are still incredibly scarce on exactly how Azure Arc works and what the requirements and limitations are for the hybrid cloud management platform. Is it the answer to Google Anthos? Is it an attempt to compete against services like AWS RDS on VMware? And what does this do to the Azure Stack family? Time will tell, and I am excited to know more about this product. Much moreso than all the other announcements made during the keynote.

But my PowerPoint Decks!

The massive renaming of products is going to cause more than a little consternation for those in the training and marketing world who have already created content and curriculum based on the current product names. Unfortunately, that is the nature of working in technology. I have a book on Azure Kubernetes Service coming out on December 28th, and I’d be pretty miffed if they had changed the name of that product so close to release.

Some of the renaming makes sense from a product rationalization perspective, but the bulk of it was done for marketing buzz and PR. After all, a rose by any other name would smell even sweeter, right?

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