4 major Azure announcements made at Microsoft Build 2020

21 May 2020

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At this year’s Microsoft Build event, the company announced a new AI supercomputer, a toolkit for creating ‘responsible’ machine learning and a cloud offering for healthcare.

Today (21 May) marks the final day of Microsoft Build, the tech giant’s annual conference aimed at software engineers and developers using Windows, Azure and other Microsoft technologies.

Like all major Microsoft events scheduled for the next year, Build 2020 took place as a digital event. The conference began on Tuesday and comes to a close this evening.

Throughout the event, Microsoft reiterated how fitting the title of the conference is to the “unprecedented era” that we find ourselves in.

In a blogpost about Build 2020, Microsoft wrote: “As work environments evolve, you’ll see how we’re creating solutions to help companies build, rebuild and thrive, including new tools that enable developers to design and deliver artificial intelligence applications in an ethical and responsible way, as well as help them build connected productivity experiences.”

Here, we take a look at some of the main announcements Microsoft made about cloud computing service Azure at this year’s event.

The AI supercomputer

One of the biggest announcements Microsoft made at Build 2020 was the development of one of the world’s “most powerful” AI supercomputers, which is hosted in Azure and was developed in collaboration with and exclusively for OpenAI.

Microsoft said that the machine is one of the top five publicly disclosed supercomputers in the world.

The supercomputer has been purpose-built to train massive distributed AI models, giving it all of the benefits of a dedicated appliance paired with the benefits of Azure’s cloud infrastructure.

The company’s CTO, Kevin Scott, said: “The exciting thing about these models is the breadth of things they’re going to enable.

“This is about being able to do a hundred exciting things in natural language processing at once and a hundred exciting things in computer vision, and when you start to see combinations of these perceptual domains, you’re going to have new applications that are hard to even imagine right now.”

Azure Synapse Link

Microsoft also introduced Azure Synapse Link, which the company said will soon be coming to all operational systems after its initial launch on Azure Cosmos DB.

Synapse Link is a cloud-native implementation of hybrid transactional analytical processing (HTAP) that removes the barriers between Azure operational database services and Azure Synapse Analytics.

This new tool aims to enable customers to get insights from their real-time transactional data stored in their operational databases with a single click, without managing data movement or placing a burden on their operational systems.

Raghu Ramakrishnan, CTO of Azure Data, wrote about Synapse Link in detail here.

‘Responsible’ machine learning tools

Microsoft said that it is delivering new ‘responsible’ machine learning tools for Azure, to help customers deploy AI models more responsibly by aiming to improve model interpretability, reduce unfairness and ensure data privacy and confidentiality.

The tools aim to help developers understand, protect and control their models throughout the machine learning lifecycle to ensure that their models are behaving fairly.

Microsoft has made these tools available through Azure Machine Learning, and has also provided them in open source on GitHub. The company wrote about some of the scenarios in which these tools are important here.

Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare

Right now, one of the most pressing issues affecting the world is public health. With the coronavirus pandemic affecting millions of people and creating a significant impact on the global economy, this is a timely announcement from Microsoft.

It’s Microsoft’s first industry-specific cloud offering, which brings together capabilities for customers and partners to enrich patient engagement, connect caregiving teams and improve collaboration, decision-making and operational efficiencies.

The company said that Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare can be used to extend the value of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Marketing, Dynamics 365 Customer Service and Azure IoT to deploy a range of solutions, which are listed here.

According to Microsoft, the new cloud offering will bring together existing and future capabilities that deliver automation and efficiency on high-value workflows, as well as deep data analytics.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic