Microsoft (you might have heard of them, they’re a Seattle company that does tech stuff) is this week holding its annual Build conference in Seattle. Build is an event that is focused on developers, a fact that gets me a little riled up (a topic for another post but to summarize, since the business side of enterprise, and the IT side, are converging, it seems silly to artificially segment the events in this way).

I’m going to do some deeper analysis at a later date, but for now here’s a roundup of all that is being announced.

Infrastructure at the edge

These series of announcements were all focused on various aspects of edge computing – because, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella points out, so-called “smart devices” are growing hugely. A predicted 20 billion smart devices are predicted to exist in only a couple of years. That creates some challenges as well as some opportunities – it creates a huge amount of data that can be slurped up and analyzed, but it also raises some challenges in terms of delivering compute away from the centralized public clouds. Specific announcements that fall into this category include:

  • Microsoft is open sourcing the Azure IOT Edge Runtime
  • Custom Vision will now run on Azure IOT Edge, enabling devices such as drones and industrial equipment to take action without requiring cloud connectivity. This is the first Azure Cognitive Service to support edge deployment, with more coming to Azure IOT Edge over the next several months
  • DJI, the world’s biggest drone company, is partnering with Microsoft to create a new SDK for Windows 10 PCs that will bring flight control and real-time data transfer capabilities to Windows 10 devices. As part of the commercial partnership
  • Microsoft announced a joint effort with Qualcomm Technologies to create a vision AI developer kit running Azure IoT Edge. This solution makes available the key hardware and software required to develop camera-based IoT solutions. Developers can create solutions that use Azure Machine Learning services and take advantage of the hardware acceleration available via the Qualcomm Vision Intelligence Platform and Qualcomm AI Engine. The camera can also power advanced Azure services, such as machine learning, stream analytics, and cognitive services, that can be downloaded from the cloud to run locally on the edge

Developing in a new, smarter era

The act (some would say art) of developing software is fundamentally different today from what it was only a few short years ago. Cloud is, obviously, a different paradigm for the creation and deployment of software but changes such as the rise of containerization, serverless computing and a move to ever-greater use of microservices changes the game for developers. Add to this the fact that every application needs to be hard wired with an AI aspect, and you’d expect lots of news in this area from Microsoft. True to form, the company announced:

  • Project Kinect for Azure, a package of sensors, including a depth camera, with onboard compute designed for AI on the Edge
  • A Speech Devices SDK announced today delivers audio processing from multi-channel sources for more accurate speech recognition including noise cancellation. With this, developers can build a variety of voice-enabled scenarios like drive-thru ordering systems, in-car or in-home assistants, smart speakers, and other digital assistants
  • Azure Cosmos DB updates include new multi-master at global scale capabilities, designed to support both the cloud and the edge, along with the VNET general availability for increased security
  • A preview of Project Brainwave, an architecture for deep neural net processing, is now available on Azure and on the edge. In addition, Brainwave is in development for Azure Stack and Azure Data Box
  • New Azure Cognitive Services updates include a unified Speech service with improved speech recognition, text-to-speech, supporting customized voice models and translation
  • Azure for conversational AI experiences: Updates to Bot Framework and Cognitive Services that Microsoft promises will help create conversational bots with richer dialogs, and full personality and voice customization to match the company’s brand identity
  • A preview of Azure Search with Cognitive Services integration. This new feature combines AI with indexing technologies so it’s possible to find information and insights, whether via text or images

Multi-language, deep DevOps and a dose of Blockchain

Microsoft is having to do a lot of work to ensure that developers have a consistent way of building solutions for the rapidly increasing plethora of different consumption devices and paradigms that exist. They’re also working hard to enable the new, more agile way of developing software. To whit:

  • Upcoming general availability of Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS). AKS integrates with developer tools and workspaces, CI/CD, networking, and monitoring tools in the Azure portal. In addition, Microsoft is taking Kubernetes to the edge with AKS for Azure IOT Edge, along with rolling out Visual Studio Team Services projects for AKS
  • Visual Studio IntelliCode is a new capability that offers the holy grail of AI for software development. IntelliCode provides (hopefully) intelligent suggestions to improve code quality and productivity
  • Visual Studio Live Share, now in preview, lets developers collaborate in real-time with team members who can edit and debug directly from their existing tools like Visual Studio 2017 and VS Code. Developers can use Live Share with any language for any scenario, including serverless, cloud-native and IOT development
  • Microsoft announced a new partnership with GitHub that integrates Azure DevOps services for GitHub customers. First up is the integration of Visual Studio App Center and GitHub, which provides GitHub developers building mobile apps for iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS devices to automate DevOps processes from within the GitHub experience
  • Microsoft Azure Blockchain Workbench is a new offering which hopes to make it easier to develop blockchain applications by stitching together an Azure-supported blockchain network with cloud services like Azure Active Directory, Key Vault, and SQL Database

MyPOV

That’s a huge amount of news and demonstrates just how broad Microsoft’s product portfolio is. Clearly, the company is doubling down on its AI offerings and applying them across a bunch of other tools. This approach mirrors what Microsoft has done internally by applying AI to its own internal operational approaches.

Microsoft has some strong points of differentiation from both Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Platform and many of the announcements today are targeted and deepening this differentiation. All in all, it indicates positive times ahead for Redmond’s finest.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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