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Microsoft delivered more than 100 product and service announcements at its Build conference last week. As CEO Satya Nadella said in his keynote, these announcements support the continued “tech intensity” that has accelerated throughout the 2020 global pandemic, expediting the company’s investments in digital transformation — especially the adoption of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and big data.
Build, the company’s annual event for developers, focused on the intersection of IT modernization and the development of applications that can leverage data and AI to power the way we work, learn, and communicate. The event also focused a lot on the idea of “creators” — not the kind we hear about in the YouTube or TikTok world, but the kind Microsoft hopes to support with its no-code, low-code, and pro-code offerings designed to allow more members of an organization to concurrently deliver material value to the group, making development a team sport where both coders and business experts contribute.
With so many new capabilities brought to market over the three-day event, it would be hard to cover the whole gamut of announcements. But as an analyst, I was particularly drawn to updates around the Azure ecosystem and wanted to provide some insights on what caught my attention and what it means for Microsoft and its ecosystem.
Key enhancements for Azure Arc
The first thing that caught my eye was the increased support for Azure Arc and the company’s clear positioning that multi-cloud is here and that everything it builds needs not only to support Azure but on-prem, the edge, and other clouds like Google and AWS.
Arc was originally announced in 2019 as the company’s solution for managing resources from across clouds. Still, this year’s event included the announcement of several newly added cloud services, including Azure App Service, Functions, Logic Apps, API Management, and Event Grid, to enable more of Microsoft’s services to run in other clouds.
Here is a quick rundown of each.
Azure App Service: A fully managed service for building, deploying, and scaling web apps.
Functions: Event-driven serverless compute platform designed to solve complexities in applications orchestration.
Logic Apps: New integration platform as a service (iPaaS) built on a containerized runtime to make apps more scalable, portable, and automated across the IT environment.
API Management: Hybrid and multi-cloud management platform allowing developers to deploy API gateways side-by-side no matter the host location, optimizing API traffic flow.
Event Grid: Single service for managing event routing from any source to any destination.
In brief, these services enable users to run Kubernetes clusters, on-premises, multi-cloud, and within edge environments using Azure, unlocking data no matter its location for use on Azure compute services. I believe these offerings are essential to meet the current landscape of IT modernization, which often works in parallel to the development of applications — as time goes on, these functions will continue to work more harmoniously.
Azure forms new Azure Applied AI Services
Microsoft announced a plethora of enhancements for Azure AI, Azure Cognitive Services, and Azure ML. All of these updates are designed to enable users to do more with their data. Moreover, the company was pretty straightforward about wanting to allow developers to better leverage the power of AI in apps being developed on its platform.
The new tools, along with some newly minted general-availability (GA) announcements, include:
Updates to Azure Bot Service: A visual authoring canvas along with open-source tools that let developers add telephony and speech capabilities when testing, debugging, and deploying multi-channel bots without requiring massive changes to developer code.
Azure Metrics Advisor: This service went into preview last September but is now GA. Metrics Advisor is a monitoring platform that offers APIs for data ingestion, diagnostics, and anomaly detection without the requirement of machine learning knowledge.
Azure Video Analyzer: Video analytics are hot, and this new offering combines Live Video Analytics and Video Indexer. This service is currently in preview and is designed to deliver analytics from streaming and stored videos, including the auto-extraction of advanced metadata.
Microsoft, notably announced it will combine these new and updated offerings along with Azure Form Recognizer, Azure Immersive Reader, and Azure Cognitive search to make up what it will call the ‘Azure Applied AI Services Group.’ The importance of these tools and connectors comes down to making AI more usable for developers. Despite the constant chatter about AI’s ability to enhance applications, Microsoft knows the critical path is to shorten the development time and simplify the inclusion of AI while improving and building applications.
Azure, for the foreseeable future, will continue to chase AWS’s massive infrastructure business. Still, it is hard to argue with the vast developer ecosystem that the company has created and the hooks that tie these tools and services together. Azure serves as the foundation for the data ecosystem. The continued evolution of Microsoft’s developer ecosystem being more “Code meets Creator” provides a platform for companies to embrace the massive portfolio of software and solutions that Microsoft offers its customers.
This year’s event addressed the rapid proliferation of hybrid cloud, multi-cloud, and the enterprise requirement for applying data at scale. I expect this trend to continue as Microsoft seeks to cement further the adoption of its applications and the use of its cloud and AI services.
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