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Blockchain, edge, AI & ML - Microsoft goes all-out for devs

By Sara Barker
Fri 3 May 2019
FYI, this story is more than a year old

Microsoft is launching a swath of new developer technologies and Azure services designed to bring AI, blockchain, mixed reality, and IoT to the forefront of development.

According to Microsoft Cloud & AI Group’s executive vice president Scott Guthrie, it’s an incredible time to be a developer.

"From building AI and mixed reality into apps to leveraging blockchain for solving commercial business problems, developers’ skillsets and impact are growing rapidly,” he says.

“Today we’re delivering innovative Azure services for developers to build the next generation of apps. With 95% of Fortune 500 customers running on Azure, these innovations can have far-reaching impact.”

The announcements come ahead of Microsoft Build in Seattle next week, which will bring together more than 6000 developers and content creators to learn about Microsoft’s latest cloud and developer technologies.

The announcements come under four broad categories: Artificial intelligence; Azure machine learning; edge computing and hybrid cloud; and Azure Blockchain.

Artificial intelligence with Azure – helping developers and data scientists apply AI to any solution

Azure Cognitive Services power applications to see, hear, respond, translate, reason and more. 

Microsoft is launching a new Cognitive Services category, called “Decision,” that delivers users a specific recommendation for more informed and efficient decision-making. This category includes Content Moderator, the recently announced Anomaly Detector, and a new service called Personalizer, which uses reinforcement learning to provide users with a specific recommendation to enable quick and informed decision-making. 

Microsoft is bringing AI to Azure Search with the general availability of the cognitive search capability, enabling customers to apply Cognitive Services algorithms to extract new insights from their structured and unstructured content. In addition, we are previewing a new capability that enables developers to store AI insights gained from cognitive search, making it easier to create knowledge-rich experiences leveraging Power BI visualisations or machine learning models.

Azure Machine learning makes ML learning models easier to build, train, and deploy

MLOps capabilities with Azure DevOps integration provides developers with reproducibility, auditability and automation of the end-to-end machine learning lifecycle.

Automated ML advancements and an intuitive UI make developing high-quality models easier.
Visual machine learning interface provides no-code model creation and deployment experience with drag-and-drop capabilities.

To enable extremely low latency and cost-effective inferencing, Microsoft is announcing the general availability of hardware-accelerated models that run on FPGAs, as well as ONNX Runtime support for NVIDIA TensorRT and Intel nGraph for high-speed inferencing on NVIDIA and Intel chipsets.

Azure Blockchain takes blockchain to Azure-supported networks

Last year, Microsoft announced Azure Blockchain Workbench, which gave developers a simple UI to model blockchain applications on a preconfigured Azure-supported network. Now Microsoft has added new blockchain capabilities.

Azure Blockchain Service simplifies the formation, management and governance of consortium blockchain networks, allowing businesses to focus on workflow logic and app development. Azure Blockchain Service deploys a fully managed consortium network and offers built-in governance for common management tasks, such as adding new members, setting permissions and authenticating user applications. 

Microsoft also announced this week that J.P. Morgan’s Ethereum platform, Quorum, is the first ledger available in Azure Blockchain Service, giving Microsoft and J.P. Morgan customers the ability to deploy and manage scalable blockchain networks in the cloud.  

Edge computing becomes more intelligent

Microsoft introduced Azure SQL Database Edge to support the spectrum of edge compute needs. A SQL engine optimised for lower compute requirements with built-in AI, the product combines data streaming with in-database machine learning and graph capabilities to enable intelligence on the edge. Because Azure SQL Database Edge shares the same programming surface area with SQL Server, developers can easily take applications to the edge without having to learn new tools and languages, providing a consistent programming experience.

Microsoft also announced IoT Plug and Play, a new open modelling language to seamlessly connect IoT devices to the cloud, enabling developers to navigate one of the biggest challenges they face — deploying IoT solutions at scale. Previously, software had to be written specifically for the connected device it supported, limiting the scale of IoT deployments. IoT Plug and Play will offer customers a large ecosystem of partner-certified devices that can connect quickly.

For mixed-reality development, Microsoft is making it easier to create for HoloLens 2 with the HoloLens 2 Developer bundle, which provides the community of mixed- reality developers with access to solutions to help them build and run mixed-reality experiences across a range of devices. 

Unreal Engine 4 support for streaming and native platform integration for HoloLens 2 will be available for developers by the end of May to create high-quality, photo-realistic renders and immersive, mixed-reality experiences for solutions spanning architecture, product design, manufacturing and more. 

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