Ignite 2018: Microsoft talks a lot about AI, and a lot about Azure – here’s what you need to know

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Today in Orlando at Ignite, Microsoft’s annual conference for IT Pros, as expected much of the focus wasn’t on Windows or Surface or Xbox, but on the new stars of a new generation, AI and Azure. Microsoft spent time talking about AI for humanitarian good, about security for a world rapidly being connected in ways we’ve never experienced, and about new tools and new updates to make it possible for developers and companies to utilize the power of Artificial Intelligence using Azure, SQL Server, and machine learning.

In many ways, the world is connecting up faster than we can control, and Microsoft is at least attempting to get a handle on what’s being unleashed. Introduced today at Ignite, the company built on its AI for Good initiative with AI for Humanitarian Action, a $40 million, five year program to promote use of AI to aid disaster response, the needs of children and refugees, and act on human rights abuses. It introduced enterprise-class security technology including Microsoft Authenticator for Azure AD, Secure Score, and Microsoft Threat Protection.

While not in the cross-hairs of the issues surrounding election fraud, Microsoft has been stepping up with its AccountGuard initiative, offering “state of the art cybersecurity protection at no extra cost to all candidates and campaign offices at the federal, state, and local lever, and other organizations critical to the democratic process.”

While engaged in the process of throttling AI and machine learning before it gets (too) out of control, Microsoft also unveiled a number of new products and technologies to accelerate the adoption and use of AI in the enterprise and in our daily lives. Microsoft introduced updates to Azure Machine Learning, announced a preview of SQL Server 2019 and Azure SQL DB hyper scale that, beginning October 1st, will offer auto-scaling up to 100TB per database. Available today, Azure SQL Database Managed Instance will allow organizations to migrate SQL Server workloads to the cloud with zero code changes. It announced the public preview of Azure Data Explorer, a “lightning fast indexing and querying service,” updates to Cosmos DB multi-master, and a preview of Azure Databricks Delta.

It was a big day for IoT news at Ignite, too, and Microsoft continues to move fast in building out Azure for the Internet of Things, and is making Azure IoT Central generally available and ready to “provision an IoT solution in less than a minute.” The company introduced Azure Digital Twins, a system for building “comprehensive digital models of any physical environment.” With Azure Digital Twins, developers can build virtual models (an elevator, a factory floor) and optimize and manage those assets more efficiently.

Microsoft is trying to keep IoT secure, too, introducing the broad availability of Azure Sphere development kits, and a public preview of Azure Data Box Edge, a physical appliance that sends data in and out of Azure.

For the Microsoft consumer enthusiast, it’s difficult to comprehend the importance of Azure, of big data, and the issues surrounding security and safety, but they will, and do already affect our daily lives with everything from online shopping to banking to traffic patterns to election security and even democracy itself. We’ll be talking more about Azure and data and how it affects us as consumers here at OnMSFT as Microsoft continues to push to become a leader in the transformation to a digital first world.