What Tech Pros Need to Know About the Microsoft Graph

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  • Mary Jo Foley
    Mary Jo Foley

    Our next MJFChat, scheduled for Monday, May 13, is between me and Yina Arenas, Principal Program Manager for Microsoft Graph. The general topic of our chat is the Microsoft Graph — its centralized API and a key to enabling next-generation computing scenarios.

    The main purpose of the Microsoft Graph is to make applications smarter, so that they don’t require a lot of interim steps in order to surface contextual data. By integrating with Graph, apps will be able (with users’ permissions) to access their calendars to suggest meeting times, get data from an Excel file to update a chart with the latest information, and let users know where they’re spending their time, and so on. Microsoft Graph was a key piece of a number of announcements and demos at Microsoft’s Build 2019 conference this week.

    What questions do you have for Yina about the Microsoft Graph? I’ll be chatting with her on May 13 and will ask some of your best Graph questions directly to YIna.


    Hi Mary Jo and Yina,

    Can you talk a bit about the security of the graph? It contains a lot of sensitive data and have always been curious about how Microsoft protects users data in such a rich pool of content from abuse/outside parties?


    How do get I started developing, or what are the first steps I should take to get started with the Graph API?


    Hi Mary Jo and Yina! What are some of the things enabled by the Microsoft API? What are some examples?


    Mary Jo and Yina, why do IT Pros need to know abotu Graph?

    Brad Sams
    Brad Sams

    You can find the audio playback, here.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:04

    Hi, you’re listening to Petri.com MJFChat show. I am Mary Jo Foley, AKA your Petri.com community magnet. I’m here to ask industry experts about various topics that you, our readers want to know about. So today’s MJFChat is all about the Microsoft Graph and specifically what IT pros need to know about it. My guest today is Yina Arenas, Principle Program Manager for the Microsoft Graph. She also happens to be known as the mother of the Graph. Thank you so much for joining us Yina.

    Yina Arenas: 00:42

    Thank you so much Mary Jo for having me in the show.

    Mary Jo Foley: 00:46

    I’m going to jump right in because we have a number of questions and I want it to start out by asking you if you wouldn’t mind to give us a quick recap of the history of the Graph. Because I think some of the Petri.com readers and listeners may not be as familiar with the Graph as I am because I’ve written quite a bit about it. But where did the graph come from and when and why was it built?

    Yina Arenas: 01:10

    So let’s start with what is the graph and then I’ll give a little bit of the history about it. Microsoft Graph is the gateway to data and intelligence in Microsoft 365. It gives a unified program ability model so that developers can access a tremendous amount of data across Office 365, Windows 10, and the Enterprise Mobility and Security Suite. In terms of how it got started, it actually was a few years back. Microsoft graph is the result of a journey that we at Microsoft have been going through before moving our own services to the cloud.

    We are our own programmability models where tight to each of the individual products. So it wasn’t very easy or intuitive to build experiences that went across. So for us, the kind of people-centric experiences that we envisioned, we needed to create a platform that could realize them. So we started working on Microsoft Graph and driving consolidation of our APIs and on our data models. It started with a few services.

    It started with Office, Exchange and Sharepoint and then also as your Active Directory, which is that the service that we use to store all the information about users and groups. Today, I will say over a few dozen teams across different product teams across Office 365, Windows, and EMS, which is the enterprise mobility and security suite, expose their data in Microsoft Graph.

    So it is a tremendous amount of data fabric of data from our customers that has been consolidated to power the set of experiences that we build. At Build we announced that not only we have the API, which is the way that developers interact with it, but also data connect, which is a kind of new way to enable analytic applications.

    Mary Jo Foley: 03:09

    I’m definitely gonna ask you more about data connect as we get into this because I think it’s very interesting where you’re going with that. That’s, that’s a really good level set for us to start with. I’ve been kind of trying to explain this in my writing lately and I bet other people have this question too, but how does the Microsoft graph fit in with other kinds of graphs of data that Microsoft has? Like I’m thinking like LinkedIn specifically.

    Yina Arenas: 03:35

    So Microsoft graph, as I mentioned before, it exposes data for Microsoft 365 services. At this point in time of Microsoft and Linkedin, the businesses have made a call to separate partner ecosystems and models. So Linkedin has a program and has an API that partners can apply to to access the data from the Linkedin service. Microsoft Graph is accessible to every partner which, Microsoft’s customers grants them access. So we have a user that is customer for Microsoft 365, then they have the ability to grant a developer or an application access to their data in the graph.

    Mary Jo Foley: 04:21

    Is it correct to call the graph, the Microsoft graph one API or is it multiple APIs?

    Yina Arenas: 04:28

    So it’s actually thousands of APIs. There is more half of a million resources described on the API, it’s a lot. Each of them have their APIs that enable to create, read an update, and delete operations. Because there’s so much data on all of these different set of products that are part of it, that one of the hardest things that we’ve accomplished with Microsoft Graph is having that consistency and establishing the patterns that teams across Microsoft used to design those APIs.

    So those consistent conventions across like naming, casing, errors, URL structures, heather functions and more enable it. The important thing is that at the end result is that developers can leverage the learning curve. So for example, where they learn how to interact with one resource in the graph, that knowledge automatically transfers to any other resource.

    When I say add a resource, I just want to clarify. So I mean files, calendar events, conversations, security alerts, devices and all of the different set of data structures that we have in the Graph.

    Mary Jo Foley: 05:49

    Okay, that’s good. I think I get confused about this because when Microsoft talks about it, they say the Graph API sometimes and so I know that there’s like supposed to be common end points and you can interact with it I think by SDK APIs. So I was a little confused, how people should think about it conceptually.

    Yina Arenas: 06:12

    It is a unified endpoint that is hosted on the graph.microsoft.com . We have SDKs that provide tailored experiences for developers in different languages in.net and Java and javascript and node and objective c. So depending on what environment and what type of application they’re building, they’ll have tailored experiences for them. It is a unified end point that has access to all of these data. So that’s why we call it the like one thing.

    Mary Jo Foley: 06:45

    I’m going to ask a question from one of the Petri.com forum participants, Stephanie Madrid, who says, “I’d like to know what some of the things that are enabled by the Microsoft Graph API. Like can you give us some examples of things that I might know about that exist today that will give me a better picture of what the Graph can do? ”

    Yina Arenas: 07:06

    Absolutely. So if we start by the definition of these interconnected FAPE fabric of data that contains the resources that I was talking about, right? Like mail, calendar files, like these tasks groups. I’ll say that there are two big components of the Graph. The first one is what enables Microsoft to do. Microsoft graph enables us to build people centric experiences across Microsoft 365. For example, imagine you’re in Word and being able to @mention a person right there in the word document and assign a task to the person without leaving the flow, right? Like that is powered by the Microsoft Graph.

    The second important thing is that what it enables for our partners. So it offers, as we were discussing, this unified end point that they can use to get access to all of the data for these services across Microsoft 365 and not just the data, but also some of the calculated insights and relationships that we produce on our intelligent engine. We enabled them to create these intelligent experiences which can be extending one of the experiences that we wanted, the canvases that we have. Like for example, having an app that shows in outlook and enables you to do smart scheduling. Or writing their own applications, like for example, a web application or a mobile application. So that’s what a set of things that are enabled through the graph.

    Mary Jo Foley: 08:42

    I don’t know if you can do this in words, I’m just thinking of this now because a lot of times when I talk about these kinds of concepts, I always ask people for an architectural diagram because I kind of think in diagrams, so I’m curious if you can. If I was going to draw a picture of where the Graphs sits in the architectural stack, can you explain like here’s the bottom layer, here’s the next layer…

    Yina Arenas: 09:07

    Let’s try, let’s try to imagine this mental picture. So I’ll say that on the bottom of the picture of this layer cake is Microsoft identity. So it all starts with identity of the user. That is a customer for Microsoft services, whether it is across our commercial offerings that is for our business offerings or for work or for school or for our consumer users, right? So it starts with that layer. So the identity layer is the underpinning of our platform. Then the next layer is the data. So it’s all of the data that we have across the different services.

    I was talking about a mail data and calendar data on the task, right? And then on top of that, we have the interfaces that allow access to the data Microsoft Graph being that interface. You can think about the next layer will be the services that we provide. So it is the calendar services or search or emailing or the services around security, like ATP. So all of the services that are built on top of the data. And then the layer on the top will be the experiences. So this is what our users will interact with, right? Like whether it is an experience that we provide or an experience that our partners tailor. Because that’s the big opportunity here. Tailoring those experiences that we built for the very general public.

    The same Microsoft 365 experiences that K to 12 and school will use are the same that will be used across industry verticals in legal or marketing or retail, right? Like we don’t customize them for specific needs, but that’s where the partners come. They are that last mile that customize those experiences and help thrive that tailored set of experiences that are needed for our customers. That’s the layer cake.

    Mary Jo Foley: 11:23

    That’s awesome. I don’t know if it helps other people, but that helps me a lot. So I was a build last week in Seattle and a word that kept coming up a lot in different meetings I had and in different presentations I saw was substrate. I kept hearing people say, you know, there’s this substrate that’s underlying Office 365, Microsoft 365, and some people called it like a knowledge bank or a knowledge base. It seemed to be kind of key, the whole people centric concept that Microsoft is pushing now. But what does substrate have to do with the Graph? Anything?

    Yina Arenas: 11:59

    Yes, absolutely. Substrate is the internal name that we have for the place where a lot of the data sets, capabilities, and services that power the intelligent insights and all of that AI machine learning technologies that are being applied. And that’s where we built, these experiences and Microsoft Graph is the gateway to that. So the data that you will find in the substrate is the same data that is exposed through the Microsoft Graph.

    Mary Jo Foley: 12:30 There’s another concept, I’m familiar with on the dynamics side of the house, which they call the common data model. Which I kind of think of as a place to store all this kind of data too. But I’m curious if there’s any correlation or potential correlation between what’s going on the dynamic side with CDM and what’s going on with the Graph on the other side?

    Yina Arenas: 12:54

    Yes. So graph has a set of defined resources. For example, we have the Schema for those core resources that drive productivity and that are anchored to each of these products that are part of the Microsoft 365 umbrella. Like we’ve been talked about Office 365 and all of the products that our protocol has 365, we talked about Windows and the Windows services and then enterprise mobility and security suite. So that, I’ll say that those are set and defined set of resources and the schema that they already have.

    Present CDM, the partners have an opportunity to define their own schema. And then also there’s the whole initiative around open data that where the common schema is being established across different partners, right? Like with SAP and Adobe, and being the importance there is like how do we make sure that when we’re talking about a specific entity, specific resource, we’re all talking about it in the same way. I mean consistency and coherence, which both CDM and Graph a half as a mantra Jose.

    Mary Jo Foley: 14:06

    Okay. I mean, would there be any case where they were being overlap between the two? If say I’m thinking like custom, like in the case of the Graph, sometimes you have customer data and they have customer data also.

    Yina Arenas: 14:19

    Yes, there could be scenarios where you will use both on par in your application.

    Mary Jo Foley: 14:26

    All right. Another thing to add to my mental map. Another thing that came up at Build last week and you, briefly addressed this at the beginning, was the data connect piece of the Graph. That was an announcement last week at Build. Could you talk a little more in depth about what that is and why that’s a big deal.

    Yina Arenas: 14:48

    Absolutely. So remember we talked about that layer of data?. And the first thing, the first interface that we exposed with a set of APIs that enable you to get access to real time data. So think about very transactional. I want to know what are the top important emails in my inbox right now. Microsoft graph data connect is a set of tools that provide a new interface and then allow developers to get managed access to the data at scale. So it’s not, I’m just not going to get a single point in time, but I’m going to get a window of time.

    I don’t have these tools that including Microsoft graph data connect, gives ability for developers to with no code just configuration. That’s one of the tools that is provided securely, an automated migration of that data into Azure. Once the data is in Azure, then you can use Azure tooling like all of the AI and ML tool set that Azure offers to do an analysis on that data. Then you can derive and generate your own insights. And not only it has that secure migration to Azure which remains in the customer’s boundary, but also it allows administrators to manage the type of data that is most. So for example, if we go with email, so say we want to move all of the email for a given group, let’s say the marketing group and we want to know if they’re collaborating, right?

    Like, so we’ll move that email, but we just want to know, we don’t necessarily want to know who sent it. We only want to know subjects and bodies. So we can do that granularity and decide like what are the set of dimensions of the data that we’re going to move to Azure and allow the administrator to control that. So that is at the natural what Microsoft graph data connectors.

    Mary Jo Foley: 16:52

    Is it specific to insights or can you do other things with data connect beyond that?

    Yina Arenas: 16:57

    You could do other things that it enables different set of scenarios, right? Like basically it gives organizations the opportunity to tap into large datasets. They can power, whether it is insights or intelligent workflows or organizational optimization, like for example, scanning for fraud and security. There are many scenarios that you could use once you have that data at rest.

    Mary Jo Foley: 17:27

    Speaking of security, we have a security question from Greg Alto. He asked, “can you talk a bit about the security of the graph? It contains a lot of sensitive data and I’ve always been curious how about how Microsoft protects users data in such a rich pool of content from abuse by outside parties.”

    Yina Arenas: 17:47

    Yes, that’s a very important question. So I’ll say that the, the prime message here is that it is customer’s data, right? Like all of the data that is stored in Microsoft Graph. It’s either belongs to an organization or belongs to the individual users and privacy and security of our customer’s data is the most important thing for us. We’ll say all of the intelligence features within Microsoft 365 strictly respect the access rights given by a user.

    We will not expose the information to anyone who has not been given access. So when you have a third party application, they must explicitly request access to that data. And the users, if they have the rights to give access to that data, they will be able to consent to it. Otherwise, like it would be up to the administrators to consent to give access to that data. Then the company administrators have the ability to take full control on what the applications can be used with in the organization.

    So whether or not users are permitted to acquire applications and they can even control all of the apps that have access at any point in time. They can also revoke these access at any point in time. So the security, like I said, it’s very, very important for us and there is very granular controls that users and administrators have or the data.

    Mary Jo Foley: 19:22

    That’s good. Good to know. So you’ve addressed the question I had, which is, is the graph applicable to both business data and consumer data?

    Yina Arenas: 19:33

    Yes. On both.

    Mary Jo Foley: 19:36

    This may be a crazy question, but given that at Build, Microsoft’s is now talking about three clouds. They’re talking about the productivity cloud, the AI Cloud end gaming cloud. Is there any use for this at all in gaming?

    Yina Arenas: 19:53

    Well, you’re right, Graph is for both consumer and commercial services. Today on the consumer side is it exposes the user profile information that is the same for our gaming services. So when you sign up to Xbox live with your outlook.com account, that’s the same information that is exposed on the consumer side of the Microsoft Graph. Now we don’t have at this point in time any other data from the gaming services, but in the future it might expose. So it’s not out of the question. It’s not a crazy question.

    Mary Jo Foley: 20:38

    Cool. So getting towards a wrap up here, I think Tina had a good potential last questions. She said, “for a developer, I understand what the appeal of the Graph is and and I know why I would need to know about this concept in the APIs and all, but if you’re an IT pro, what’s your stake in the game here and how should you start learning about this? Like what do you recommend it pros need to learn or do or know about the Graph at this point?”

    Yina Arenas: 21:09

    Yeah, so I’ll say that Microsoft graph is here to alter the landscape of productivity for everyone. So developers and users and IT pros are directly impacted by the experiences that are powered by the Microsoft Graph. We already talked about, you know, the set of experiences that can be built for developers. We talked about the opportunity for them to build those experiences.

    For IT pros, I think that there is an important aspect around the control that it gives them. So for apps that are easier to deploy and manage because they are integrated with the Graph, they can, as I was mentioning before, they can control at all times what applications have access to the data in their organization. They can assign applications to specific users or groups that can manage those.

    And furthermore with offerings like Microsoft cloud app security, they can get detailed information of the apps that publishers understand, classify, and protect the exposure of sensitive information. So if you think about what we used to have in the past where IT pros or where users in an organization were getting customizations and that were freely given access to their data. Because Microsoft Graph has such tight security controls, it gives more control to the IT admin to what their users can do with applications.

    Mary Jo Foley: 22:34

    That’s interesting. Great. Well, thank you. You know, this was really helpful. I hadn’t talked to you in a couple of years. I think about the Graph and there’s a lot of things that have changed, so I really appreciate you giving us time here and sharing more insights.

    Yina Arenas: 22:54

    Absolutely. Thank you for inviting me. You’re welcome.

    Mary Jo Foley: 22:58

    We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with our next guest on MJF chat, so make sure that you watch for that. I’ll be posting who it’s going to be in the forums on Petri.com and that’s your signal listeners to send in your questions in the MJFChat Forum area. In regard to this chat with Yina look for the audio recording and the transcript of this, as with all our chats on the Petri.com site in the near term. Thank you very much.

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 2 weeks ago by Brad Sams Brad Sams.
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