Microsoft Build main stage.
Springtime! The flowers are blooming, the grass is getting green, the birds are out, and every major vendor has a conference with huge announcements. As an analyst, Spring is the best time of the year and 2018 has not disappointed so far. In past years, many large vendors attempted to differentiate themselves by merely changing their lexicon from that of their competition. Within the cloud and data center infrastructure market, this was especially true. However, the prevailing trend now is that the flagship vendors like Dell Technologies , Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), IBM , Intel , MicrosoftCorp., NVIDIA , and Qualcomm are collectively aligning to deliver on industry-wide visions: developing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to make factories, manufacturing, utilities, and retailers more automated, and utilizing Machine Learning (ML), Deep Learning (DL) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make businesses and consumers smarter. I have not seen this much consensus on the direction of the market since Y2K. It’s good to see everyone getting along, but how to get there is another matter. Below are a few highlights from Microsoft Build 2018.
Microsoft Build 2018
This week Microsoft is holding its annual Build Conference in Redmond, Washington. Microsoft Build showcases new technologies, platforms, and techniques that are primarily used by developers. One of the key focuses this year is enabling AI on Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, and all other platforms. Additionally, Microsoft clearly realizes the opportunity IoT offers to extend functionality, intelligence, and autonomy outside of the data center and at the edge. Microsoft announced several partnerships and initiatives this week that demonstrate the company’s innovation and ability to bring partners and technology together to move IoT from POC to production.
- Doubling down on open source. Over the past few years, I have been impressed with how Microsoft has embraced both open source and Linux. Its announcement this week to open source the Azure IoT Edge Runtime gives IoT developers more flexibility to modify and debug code. Furthermore, by making it open source, developers will have the transparency and the GitHub community to make their applications more reliable, secure, and efficient. Moreover, Microsoft’s Azure Kubernetes Service (KAS) is demonstrating the company’s commitment to container-based deployment solutions from Azure to the edge. Kubernetes (K8s) is one of those transformational technologies that comes along once in a generation making the orchestration and automation of container-based workflows faster, seamless, and more efficient.I have made it no secret that Microsoft will be a significant player in both open source and Linux, as it executes on its ambition to own from the cloud to the edge. I expect to see Microsoft acquiring in the coming months. Even though Canonical (the makers of the Ubuntu) have significant organizational, management, and business model challenges, I can see them as an acquisition target that would drive favor with the open source developer community and give Microsoft a solid end-to-end cloud to edge development platform. Microsoft will just need to exercise Ubuntu’s current “Daemons” first.
- Partnering to move from POC to Production.Over the past couple of weeks, Microsoft has made several high-profile partner announcements. First, it announced a joint effort with Qualcomm Technologies Inc. on a ML developer kit for camera-based IoT solutions, with which developers can leverage Azure ML services to develop algorithms for deployment on Qualcomm’s Vision Intelligence Platform and AI Edge.Second, Microsoft has partnered with DJL to deliver a new software development kit (SDK) for drones on Windows 10 PCs. Additionally, DJL will use Azure as its preferred cloud provider for Drones-as-a-Service solution set. Developers will have the ability to incorporate full flight controls and real-time data transfer across multiple devices. This technology partnership promises to enable numerous use cases within agriculture, aviation, construction, public safety, and other industries.I continue to see the possibilities for AI, I really do. However, the industry is still working through training and developing deep learning and machine learning algorithms—AI is a buzzword, much like blockchain, that garners millions of dollars in venture capital and that’s about it. In my opinion, we are still several years away from AI being a reality (we haven’t even gotten to the point where the speed of successive iteration creates awareness in big data). I digress. Regardless, Microsoft is moving the needle from a partnership perspective by driving the technologies and tools to move beyond PoC to Production.
- Cognitive Services from Azure to the Edge. Microsoft’s Custom Vision Service will run on the Azure IoT edge. This is important because Custom Vision brings cognitive services to collect and distill information from images, speech, language, and more. Custom Vision is an essential component in the training and visual learning process for AI and ML, and can be used in drones, industrial equipment, and even autonomous vehicles, to collect and act promptly without cloud connectivity. Further, by combining Azure Search’s indexing technology with Cognitive Services, it will be possible to cross-reference and quickly find information across a multitude of mediums.
2018 is going to be an exciting year from a technology innovation and deployment perspective. The industry is at a crossroads: ML/DL is mistaken for AI, IoT has moved from being a technology to a business strategy, and the industry giants are positioning to move this distributed and fragmented market forward with clarity and purpose (well, that may be a stretch). The giants have awoken, and it will be interesting to see how everything comes together. My bets are on DELL, IBM, Intel, NVIDIA, and Microsoft to take the lead and make the journey more interesting.