Microsoft announced several new services for its Azure cloud platform today, including new capabilities for AI, machine learning, IoT, blockchain and edge computing.

Most of the new services will be available to developers through preview programs but Microsoft has not yet set a generally availability date. More details are expected during Microsoft’s annual developer conference, Build, held next week in Seattle.

“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,” said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president, Microsoft Cloud and AI Group.

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

Azure announcements

The new Azure tools are designed to encourage innovation from developers, the software giant said. The services fall into four main categories – AI, machine learning, intelligent edge, and blockchain. These are the descriptions from Microsoft:

AI

  • Azure Cognitive Services power applications to see, hear, respond, translate, reason and more. Microsoft is launching a new Cognitive Services category called “Decision,” that deliver 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 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.

Machine Learning

New innovations in Azure Machine Learning that simplify the process of building, training and deployment of machine learning models:

    • 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 that make developing high-quality models easier
    • Visual machine learning interface with 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 FGPAs, as well as ONNX Runtime support for NVIDIA TensorRT and Intel nGraph for high-speed inferencing on NVIDIA and Intel chipsets.

Intelligent Edge

  • Microsoft introduced Azure SQL Database Edge to support the spectrum of edge compute needs. A SQL engine optimise 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 model 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 access to solutions to help them build and run mixed-reality experiences across a range of devices.
  • Unreal Engine support for HoloLens 2 is also now available for developers to create high quality, photo-realistic renders and immersive, mixed reality experiences for solutions spanning architecture, product design, manufacturing and more. 

Blockchain

  • 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, enabling Microsoft and J.P. Morgan to offer the first enterprise-grade Ethereum stack to the industry.  
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