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Microsoft announced a smorgasbord of updates and new features to its Azure cloud platform today as part of the company’s Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida. Customers have access to new AI services, cost management capabilities and more.

All of these new capabilities are designed to help Microsoft compete with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and other players in the cloud computing space. Each of the major providers is iterating rapidly on the features that they offer to customers in an attempt to attract new business.

Microsoft’s Cognitive Services, which provide pre-built APIs for developers based on the tech giant’s work with machine learning, have received a number of updates, including the general availability of a Text Analytics service that helps extract sentiment, key phrases, and language from a document. The company also announced a new Custom Search API, along with a forthcoming new version of its Bing Search API.

Data scientists will also get access to massive upgrades for Azure Machine Learning, Microsoft’s service for helping companies to create and operate machine learning models. A Machine Learning Workbench feature will make it easier for developers to manage machine learning models, which is key for bringing them into production. In addition, developers will be able to export a production-ready model in a Docker container for deployment on-premises as well as in the cloud.

Microsoft also announced Reserved VM Instances, which will provide customers with discounts of up to 72 percent off list price for cloud virtual machines in exchange for one- or three-year commitments. Microsoft says that customers will also have the opportunity to refund or cancel their reserved instances at any time.

On the hybrid cloud front, Azure Stack systems are now available for enterprises to purchase. That hardware is designed to provide companies with their own instance of Microsoft’s cloud services in a form that can reside in a private data center.

In addition to the Azure updates, Microsoft also announced a suite of changes to its database tools. The company has made SQL Server 2017 generally available on both Windows and Linux, and announced a series of features aimed at improving its cloud and on-premises offerings for database customers.


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