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What Microsoft's ambitious plans for Azure mean to YOU

Microsoft's Azure cloud talk is boring to most phone- and gaming-obsessed tech enthusiasts. For most the cloud is that intangible thing, that does invisible stuff, that we know, like air, is important but isn't very exciting to talk about, much less read about.

But for a world that every tech enthusiast knows is heading toward an increasingly cloud-dependent future – the cloud is literally where nearly all of the action will be. It's already happening. Many people assume because of Microsoft's high-profile failure with phones (and other consumer products) that the company lacks insight. Critics often view Microsoft's cloud commitment as a narrow enterprise-focused distraction which contributed to Windows phones downfall. I agree neglecting Windows phones should not have happened, but investing in the cloud is not a mistake.

Microsoft is wise to build a scalable Azure cloud computing foundation that will touch everything and virtually everyone on the planet. Microsoft's Azure is targeting enterprise customers and employees, personal productivity for consumers, gaming, mixed reality, IoT for morning coffee, intelligent cars and much more. With a focus on four platforms: Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Gaming, Microsoft is positioning Azure as the world's computer. If you think Azure doesn't matter to you – think again.

Building the world's computer

As the world's computer Microsoft wants Azure to power the runtime for the world's apps, support cross-platform computing and development and power billions of internet of things (IoT) devices connected to the intelligent edge – or the enterprise and personal devices closest to users.

Microsoft envisions Azure as a cross-platform, cross-ecosystem "super OS" that runs the world's enterprise and personal computing scenarios – much like Windows was the OS that did the same in the early days of personal computing. Before iOS, Android and Chrome Windows was the de facto platform for professional and personal computing and gaming. With the rise of the internet, mobile broadband and mobile computing, platforms are more diverse – but have a common thread – connectivity.

Mobile computing from smartphones to Always Connected PCs has made "off device" cloud computing and storage an evolving reality. That's why Microsoft is aggressively positioning Azure as the place companies, developers and individuals turn to to power, manage, secure and optimize these cloud-based experiences. This is also why Microsoft so aggressively supports 5G which is a key component of cloud and edge computing.

The cloud, coffee and fighting childhood cancer

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella stressed during the company's 2019 Build Developer's Conference that Azure is in over 54 regions and has over 90 compliance certifications. As an open platform Azure is a "super OS" that treats Windows, Azure, SQL, Kubernetes, Red Hat, Open Shift and more as first class "citizens." This openness allows Microsoft's partners to use tools they prefer to leverage the cloud to impact the real-world experiences of consumers and professionals.

Walgreens uses Azure to support AI-powered cooler screens that provide information to shoppers. Beer Manufacturer AB InBev uses Azure to manage supply chain, track products using IoT and even employs Microsoft's Cognitive Services across social media to observe the impact of its product.

Azure is being used to fight childhood cancer.

Starbucks uses Azure in conjunction with its internal AI platform, Deep Brew, to create more intelligent customer experiences. Deep Brew uses location, weather conditions, time of day, time of year and more to give intelligent suggestions to customers. St. Jude's and DNA Nexus used Azure to create a research cloud used by multiple organizations to collaborate in a unified fight against childhood cancer.

AI, bots and BMWs

Microsoft's AI-driven, Azure-based conversations-as-a-platform strategy uses human language (text-based or spoken) as the platform AI and bots use to facilitate person-focused contextual tasks across platforms, ecosystems and devices.

Microsoft demonstrated how Cortana is a conversation interface for Microsoft 365. Using reasoning and Microsoft Graph data that "knows" about a user's relationships, data, calendar, activity and more across work and life Cortana is evolving into the professional and personal -contextual- digital assistant Microsoft has long envisioned. Cortana will be able to handle an ongoing dialogue with users, utilizing natural language with over 20 dialogue turns (Above video).

Azure also powers Microsofts Bot Framework which Microsoft claims gains 3000 new bots weekly. BMW used the Bot Framework to create the digital assistant in its vehicles. Jet uses it to for its customer service agent. Coca Cola employs it internally to create AI agents that support its IT, HR and finance departments. And Cortana, wired into Microsoft's extensibililty framework, allow skills to be written directly into Cortana.

Microsoft's positioning Cortana as an open platform, a canvas, to which developers can connect an infinite numbers of bots, across platforms that draw on user's shared data, via Microsoft 365, Microsoft Graph and more. Nadella described this as a muti-turn, multi-domain and multi-agent world.

AI, Bots and Canvases: Microsoft's AI vision

The cloud, mixed reality and gaming

As a wearable Always Connected PC HoloLens 2, as a Mixed Reality computer represents the epitome of Microsoft's edge computing vision. Microsoft see immersive computing where users can interact "naturally" with the digital world as computing future. The company also sees computing as an always connected and collaborative experience that transcends devices and platforms. Microsoft demonstrated how Azure and HoloLens 2 accomplish this.

Microsoft demonstrated how Azure and HoloLens 2 using Spatial helped Mattel and Microsoft collaborate in a mixed reality environment. Azure and Azure Spatial Anchors also enabled a person using an Android phone and a person using a PC to participate seamlessly in the experience.

PACCAR uses MR to train employees. Philips employed it in non-invasive surgeries and PTC used it in industrial design. Unreal Engine and Epic Games, with the power of streaming more data than ever, are able to create truly immersive MR gaming experiences.

Azure, Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and you

Nadella claims 90-percent of fortune 500 companies use Dynamics 365 which has been completely rewritten for the cloud with built-in AI and extensibility. Annata is using Dynamics for automotive management while Indegen is applying it toward life sciences.

Finally, Microsoft 365 represents the company's dual user or professional and personal commitment. Nadella described Microsoft 365 as the world's "productivity cloud for work and life," and the "core communication and collaboration productivity scaffolding that spans work and life." Tools like Microsoft Teams, Cortana, Office and the cross-platform unifying thread Microsoft Graph, provide of Microsoft 365 with a wholistic view of users.

If you're a gamer, professional, consumer, or you care about childhood cancer, Microsoft's Azure cloud platform impacts you in arguably exciting and meaningful ways. Simply put, the cloud is evolving into the world's computer, so most of the exciting computing you do, may soon be powered by boring exciting Azure – if it's not already.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

  • What do you do when you don't want it and it goes wrong? I switched from a Lumia 950 to a Mi 9 a few weeks ago. As I've been die-hard MS, I installed every android app they had(and Launcher 10 so the culture shock wasn't too heavy). After installing Outlook, I got connections to my work server, not from my device, but a MS server. It threw all sorts of security alerts so I submitted a trouble ticket. After being confirmed by their support it was by design(so your credentials are set to a MS server, then used by that MS server to retrieve the mail to their servers, then eventually sent down to your device), I uninstalled Outlook. The connections from the MS server has continued to come to my work server. Requests for support didn't get any response, in desperation, I wrote the Outlook twitter feed and actually got a suggestion as to where to go for support, who then directed me to another place, who then gave me an email to send to. I haven't heard back from that email and the connections keep happening every five minutes(note, I did a factory reset without restoring backup over the weekend in case something was stuck during uninstall). I've reported Outlook to the Google play store as this is an insane misuse of my credentials(that one would figure would be revoked by uninstalling the offending software). Since we're now nearly 5 days later, I'm furious beyond measure and anyone who thinks this is a good thing is nuts.
  • MS consumer tech support is practically non existent
  • That was supposed to be removed. Outlook on iOS and Android started out life as Accompli which did do what you say.
  • The article refers to https connections to Office365, unfortunately has nothing to do with imap.
  • Does it do anything different from AWS or Google's cloud services (don't even know the name, because who cares about hidden cloud services?)? Will you ever know if you are using one or the other?
  • The breadth of the MS cloud services dwarfs the other providers by a mile.
  • Basically, MS isn't known as a consumer facing company as much as we would like them to be, but the reality is that they provide very important services for companies that provide consumer facing products. That's what literally makes MS relavant when it comes to consumer products, and services in 2019. They are in a way like AT&T. They don't make certain devices, but they provide the network that allows those devices to be highly functional. Simple - End of story. Also, Jason... I don't only view the cloud as MS's cloud. To me that would be like viewing the internet as data on only MS's chain of servers. I see the cloud as Google, Amazon, MS, and all the larger cloud services in use today. If I'm not mistaken, Amazon is #1 in cloud adoption for enterprise? Either way, I think it's more interesting how these clouds might one day work together to honestly become the world's super computer. You should write a follow up article on that.
  • MS might not be, but its partners are and they're the one's powering our day to day life.
  • As an IT professional, I see all of this as very concerning. Watching the video of the woman planning her day via Cortana, all I could think was "Here's a person who has trouble keeping track of her life, so she uses a service that by definition knows damn near everything about her." Who she knows and how she knows them. All the digital interactions she has with them. Where she is at all times, a history of her location, and how long she spent at each place. Personal details of people she knows, such as their birthdays, places of employment, ages, etc. that perhaps those people didn't want shared with a tech giant. And that's one area I think people who prefer to not use this kind of tech for security reasons fail to think about... That even though they are selective about what personal info THEY share with various services, others that know them well may be sharing those details about them, without their knowledge or consent, in the interest of making their own lives easier. I'm a busy guy. I'm a one-man IT shop supporting over 90 users and over 350 networked devices in a company doing over $40M in sales a year. I spend 25% of each week in various meetings. I have obligations outside of work. Yet I manage to handle all that just fine without vomiting every detail of my life and schedule into a device to be analyzed and disseminated by who knows, and for what reasons. I don't have Echo or Alexa devices in my home. I do have an Invoke speaker with Cortana, but she can't access the internet and it is used for Bluetooth only (great sound quality for $50.) I don't have any TVs that listen to what is being said in my home. I don't need a fridge with a camera inside it. I don't need or want to be constantly surveilled by devices in my life. "What Orwell failed to predict is that we'd buy the cameras ourselves, and our biggest fear would be that nobody is watching." I just have grave concerns over this shift of everyone offering up their entire lives to some corporate entity. There are issues that occur. As comparatively minor examples, both I and the company owner have lost numerous documents TWICE due to glitches in OneNote and OneDrive. There are also security breaches that occur with regularity. MS is not immune to these breaches. It's not if, but when they will happen, and whose info will have been exposed. I've spoken with other IT pros that share my concerns. It's ironic how a subset of us in that group spend our days facilitating these kinds of things for other people, but have a policy of not using them ourselves.
  • Fair enough, which is why security and privacy are important. But I like the ability of outlook to enter my flight info into my calendar versus me spending the time to manually enter the info. I like the fact that Outlook works on my android phone and windows computer. If Cortana can handle a conversation within the context of what is already in my email and calendar, then my life is easier if she will suggest the new event, or take the command to change a meeting time.
  • I watched a good many of the //Build 2019 presentations related to IoT / Azure. My impression was ALLOT of it was a Solution looking for a problem. I was disappointed by the Johnson Controls presentation on machine vision / AI to help building occupants optimize their office space for employees. That's a use case scenario for adopting expensive tech that marries you to extensive service contracts w/ big rich companies? It wasn't compelling. It didn't seem necessary. A hard sell. Not necessary. Many of the cited examples fit that category.
  • After being lied to by SatyaNutella , being windows phone fan(pre mango era) and all things windows, the poor handling of the entire situation by this moron, no. Thanks, but no thanks. I have sold my stock in the company as well as i am not happy with how they have dealt with their customer base with complete disregard and utter moronic stupidity that unless absolutely i have to, i opt to use other services whenever and wherever I can and i dont foresee it changing anytime in the near future.
  • Actually, Microsoft is dealing with their customer base very well. Their BUSINESS customer base, of course. The customer base that matters, because that is where the money is. Their tiny - but rabid - consumer customer base (such as it was), was easy to cut loose. It was not growing, the products were not selling, and the company was literally losing billions of dollars each year, so that 50 million people around the world could have a "3rd ecosystem". A very distant 3rd, at that. So, as CEO, what would YOU do? Continue to lose billions on products (phones, MP3 players, music streaming service, etc.)? Or invest in Enterprise software/services/cloud, where the biggest return is. Which BTW just happens to be your traditional strength? Remember, the future of the company - not to mention your job - is on the line. Choose wisely.