Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Microsoft adds IoT and blockchain features to Azure

Steve Rogerson
May 9, 2019



Scott Guthrie (pictured), executive vice president at Microsoft, announced in his keynote at this week’s Microsoft Build conference in Seattle added Azure services and developer technologies that put capabilities spanning IoT, blockchain, AI and mixed reality in the hands of developers.
 
The company shared these and additional advancements in hybrid cloud and edge computing at the conference.
 
"It's an incredible time to be a developer," said Guthrie. “From building AI and mixed reality into apps to leveraging blockchain for solving commercial business problems, developers' skillsets and impact are growing rapidly. 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 tech giant announced IoT Plug and Play, an open modelling language to connect IoT devices seamlessly to the cloud, enabling developers to navigate one of the biggest challenges they face – deploying IoT 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 users a large ecosystem of partner-certified devices that can connect quickly.
 
Microsoft also announced a set of Azure AI technology to help developers and data scientists apply AI to any problem.
 
Azure Cognitive Services power applications to see, hear, respond, translate, reason and more. Microsoft is launching a Cognitive Services category, called Decision, that delivers users a specific recommendation for more informed and efficient decision-making. This category includes a 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, letting users apply Cognitive Services algorithms to extract insights from their structured and unstructured content. In addition, it previewed a capability that lets developers store AI insights gained from cognitive search, making it easier to create knowledge-rich experiences leveraging Power BI visualisations or machine-learning models.
 
Innovations in Azure machine learning simplify the process of building, training and deploying machine learning models:

  • ML ops capabilities with Azure devops integration provide 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 low latency and cost-effective inferencing, Microsoft announced 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.
 
The company introduced several products that address the existing and emerging needs of hybrid cloud and edge computing
 
For example, it introduced Azure SQL Database Edge to support the spectrum of edge compute needs. An 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 Azure SQL Database and SQL Server, developers can take applications to the edge without having to learn new tools and languages, providing a consistent programming experience.
 
For mixed-reality development, Microsoft is making it easier to create for HoloLens 2 with the HoloLens 2 Development Edition, which provides the community of mixed-reality developers with access to ways 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 photo-realistic renders and immersive, mixed-reality experiences for offerings spanning architecture, product design, manufacturing and more. 
 
Last year, Microsoft announced Azure Blockchain Workbench, which gave developers a UI to model blockchain applications on a preconfigured Azure-supported network. This week's announcements take it further.
 
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 members, setting permissions and authenticating user applications.
 
Microsoft also announced that JP Morgan's Ethereum platform, Quorum, is the first ledger available in Azure Blockchain Service, giving Microsoft and JP Morgan customers the ability to deploy and manage scalable blockchain networks in the cloud.
 
More than 6000 developers and content creators joined Microsoft in Seattle this week to learn about the latest advancements in cloud and developer technologies, as well as get hands-on experience with them.