Aug 29, 2023
4 minutes

Recap and Highlights from 365 EduCon Seattle 2023, a Microsoft 365 Conference

Recap and Highlights from 365 EduCon Seattle 2023,  a Microsoft 365 Conference
Sergio, winner of Apple HomePod mini!

Conference Overview

For the second time this year, Alcion proudly represented as a Gold Sponsor at a 365 EduCon conference. This time the conference was in Seattle, and we were eager to build on the momentum from our first appearance at 365 EduCon in Washington, DC in June. There was a noticeable energy in the building thanks to the epic slate of new features announced by Microsoft over the past couple of months. As discussed in my previous blog post, this made for a quality session agenda, and we found that most attendees had more energy coming out of the sessions than they came in with!

Part of this excitement had to do with the sponsor scavenger hunt, where attendees could enter for prizes by scanning a QR code at each booth. Alcion was happy to put forward an Apple HomePod mini as our prize, and the winner was not disappointed.

Our booth was bolstered by Alcion’s co-founders, Niraj Tolia and Vaibhav Kamra, and the three of us were fortunate to engage with passionate members of the Microsoft 365 community. Attendees held roles across various functions, ranging from application and product development to IT administration, and geographic diversity was also noticeable – some people had traveled all the way from Africa and Saudi Arabia. The span of Microsoft’s reach is always impressive, as our booth welcomed representatives from law, entertainment, and energy industries (just to name a few).

Despite the many differences in attendees’ backgrounds and use-cases for Microsoft 365, there were several common threads that came up across the quality conversations had at our booth.

Highlights and Takeaways

Gaps in Data Security

Many attendees were able to give granular examples of the business-critical data stored in Microsoft, but there were some long pauses after being asked if/how they protect that data. Results from our booth survey confirmed these anecdotal findings – 22% of respondents weren’t sure if their organization was protected against threats. Furthermore, those who did identify the need for data security necessarily didn’t make it a priority – two-thirds of respondents who were in the market for a Microsoft 365 data protection solution said that they weren’t actively looking. These led to some interesting discussions, where we dug into the nuances of modern cyber-attacks (see our related article) and explained how a low-cost, minimal-hassle backup service could hedge against these nasty threats.

Double-clicking on this – if this topic of data security is so nuanced that the gaps go unnoticed or un-addressed by professionals who are passionate enough to travel to 365 EduCon, what about the rest of the Microsoft 365 admins? Case in point, we talked with a not-for-profit organization, which supports business owners from underserved communities, many of whom lack a network of mentors or peers. The organization was particularly interested in plug-and-play tools that offered robust data protection, which would allow these business owners to take advantage of bootstrapped security best-practices and feel confident to operate on their own.

Adoption of Modern Technologies

As Microsoft 365 data shifts from on-premises to the cloud, administrators are expecting the same from their data protection services. 70% of our booth survey participants said that a cloud-based backup solution for Microsoft 365 was important for their organizations, and no one disagreed with that prompt. Indeed, it seems that the community recognizes many of the advantages of cloud-based services, including scalability, reliability, and reduced operational burden. But, as they should, attendees emphasized that the merits of cloud services will never eclipse the security and privacy of their sensitive data. We addressed several asks about the Alcion security model for our cloud-based service, including the data encryption standards (TLS for in-flight encryption, SHA-256 with a tenant-specific key for at-rest encryption) and how sensitive data is handled in a multi-tenant environment (robust tenant isolation policies).

I noticed a similar pattern on the topic of artificial intelligence. This is a technology that's less mature than cloud computing and, as such, comes with inflated amounts of hype and fear. On the one hand, attendees were fascinated to learn about how artificial intelligence could help with early detection of modern cyber-attacks, but on the other hand we had to re-affirm Alcion’s commitment to being a responsible steward of customer data. In general, small and medium-sized businesses were the most receptive to the value proposition of AI-driven data protection.

Reducing Friction and Cognitive Load for Operators

To its credit, Microsoft 365 offers an incredible range of services, policies, configurations, etc. but we heard from both 365 EduCon attendees and sponsors that optionality is not necessarily the friend of Microsoft 365 administrators. To reduce complexity, risk, and operational burden, administrators are embracing automation, templated best practices, and managed services:

  • Our neighboring sponsor built an entire business out of Microsoft 365 configuration-as-a-service product that alerts admins to configuration drift and changing compliance rules.  
  • One managed service provider mentioned that their most popular service is a six-hour class which walks clients through step-by-step configuration of their new Microsoft 365 tenant.
  • The IT director of a not-for-profit organization plans to 10x his spend on Defender licenses just so he doesn’t have time to deal with the nuances and limitations of the lower-tier licenses that he’s eligible for.

Where Alcion Comes In

At Alcion, I’m proud to have helped build a robust, modern, and easy-to-use data protection solution for Microsoft 365 at a reasonable price. In doing so, we hope to empower Microsoft 365 admins and secure their tenant’s business-critical data against advanced cyber threats.

Don’t take my word for it…watch a quick demo video of Alcion in action, check out the Alcion case studies (from real users), and the white paper that synthesizes the most common security-oriented pain points for Microsoft 365 admins. And when you’re ready to try Alcion, you can try it for free; the trial runs for 14 days and no credit card is required.

Zack Rossman
Zack Rossman
Member of Technical Staff, Alcion

Zack Rossman is a Member of Technical Staff at Alcion, leading the engineering efforts on AI, search, and telemetry platforms. Prior to Alcion, Zack was a Senior Software Engineer at Okta where he contributed to the core workforce identity and access management products within the Directories sphere. His strong technical background is complemented by a liberal arts education. Zack received a BA in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd College while also fulfilling commitments as a Robert Day Scholar and All-American water polo player at Claremont McKenna College.