Microsoft shows off new hybrid cloud management and cloud analytics tools

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Microsoft's cloud event in San Francisc. Credit: James Niccolai/IDG

Enterprises will soon have access to two new services that bolster Microsoft’s cloud offerings

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15 November 2019 | 0

Microsoft’s Ignite event traditionally attracts more from
the developer ranks, but the technologies on display are increasingly of
relevance to CIOs developing cloud strategies today.

At Ignite 2019 in Orlando, Microsoft unveiled a new approach
to analytics and data warehousing, Azure Synapse Analytics, and a new way to
run Azure data services in anyone’s cloud, Azure Arc. It also talked up a new
quantum-computing-as-a-service offering and showcased some AI technologies that
will soon make their way into the company’s cloud services.

Scaling up

With Azure Synapse Analytics Microsoft takes its Azure SQL Data Warehouse and turns up the volume to handle petabytes of data in its cloud. Some of the features – such as dynamic data masking and column- and row-level security to provide granular access control – are already generally available, while others – notably integrations with Apache Spark, Power BI and Azure Machine Learning – are still in preview. Other capabilities include streaming data ingestion and streaming analytics directly in the data warehouse, and a unified workspace for data prep and management. One of the first companies to use it is Unilever.

Whereas Azure Synapse is about helping enterprises get all
their data in one place, Azure Arc is about helping them spread it around,
using a common interface to manage tasks running in the Azure cloud and
workloads hosted on premises or in other cloud environments. Microsoft says
Azure Arc extends existing management capabilities such as Azure Resource
Manager, Azure Cloud Shell or Azure Policy to Linux and Windows servers and
Kubernetes clusters running on any infrastructure, whether on premises or in
other vendors’ clouds.

Initially, it is showing how to run Azure SQL Database and
Azure Database for PostgreSQL Hyperscale on any Kubernetes cluster or on Azure
Kubernetes Service, the idea being that it is easy for CIOs to spin up
additional computing capacity in the cloud when on-premises resources run out.

For now, the service is in preview: businesses can try it
out for free, with no guarantees.

Quantum solace

Azure Quantum was perhaps the most out-there announcement of
recent: Microsoft has joined IBM in offering to run quantum computing apps in
the cloud, albeit on an experimental rather than commercial basis.

In theory, quantum computing offers an algorithmic shortcut to solving many of the most time-consuming optimisation problems – breaking many encryption systems wide open into the bargain. In practice, today’s quantum computers lack power and tend to break down before they have completed the job.

Microsoft said that its scientists had developed a way to control up to 50,000 qubits – the basic unit of calculation in a quantum computer – using just three wires and a half-inch-square chip cooled to near absolute zero. That will be useful if anyone ever manages to build a 50,000-qubit computer, but for now it is just hype: IBM and Google, the leaders in the domain, each demonstrated quantum computers with just 53 qubits last month.

Still, there is some solace for far-sighted CIOs who cannot
afford their own quantum hardware: Hosted services such as Microsoft’s Azure
Quantum and IBM’s Q Experience provide affordable insight into what may become
the software development environments of the future. And until true quantum
computers become more widely available, they and on-premises hardware
simulators such as the Quantum Learning Machine from French server maker Atos
offer a chance to test the applicability of quantum computing to some of
today’s toughest business optimisation problems.

Project Cortex

Also, not yet available, but more down to earth, is Project
Cortex. This is the name Microsoft has given to a new AI service coming to
Teams, Outlook and Office that will offer users on-demand information that may
be relevant to their needs. For a user confronted by an unfamiliar acronym,
that might include a definition, related documents or even contact details for
company experts on the topic.

Microsoft already offers such AI-powered features in some of its applications, including the “Insights” feature in Outlook that suggests people to contact or tasks to follow up on, and Project Cortex is about expanding this offering. While it will all happen behind the scenes for the end user, CIOs will need to ensure that access controls are well managed and data appropriately tagged so that Project Cortex can learn who needs — and is allowed – to see what.

IDG News Service

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