Tech titan Microsoft announced a series of new cloud innovations for its flagship cloud platform Azure during Microsoft Ignite 2020. Here are the top major announcements.
1. Azure Orbital, new service that connects satellite data to the cloud
From land, to sea, to space, Microsoft has the technology to rule them all.
The company introduced Azure Orbital at Ignite 2020, a ground station service that enables satellite operators to communicate, process data and scale operations on its cloud platform, Azure.
Satellite operators will be able to use Azure Orbital to schedule contacts with their spacecrafts and directly download data such as satellite images into Azure. Azure will then process the information provided with Microsoft’s very own AI-powered analytical and geospatial tools.
Luxembourg satellite and terrestrial telecommunications network provider, SES, has agreed to join forces with Microsoft to deploy and manage Azure Orbital’s ground stations.
The company’s medium earth orbit (MEO) communication system, O3b mPOWER, will integrate Azure’s cloud services and allow for enhanced security, improved network performance, and higher flexibility and scalability. This system is scheduled to be launched in 2021.
“We are pleased to have found an ideal partner in Microsoft with its new Azure Orbital system. This agreement leverages both companies’ know-how – SES’s experience in satellite infrastructure and Microsoft’s cloud expertise – and are building blocks in developing new and innovative solutions for the future,” said JP Hemingway, the CEO of SES.
US-based AMERGINT Technologies will also be partnering with Microsoft in this major project. The company will work with Azure Orbital as an application publisher and an original equipment manufacturing (OEM) supplier. This means that it will provide digitisers, data transport appliances and modulators to allow users to collect and process satellite data, and vice versa.
“From our position as a leader in satellite ground processing, we believe that the future of satellite ground is intertwined with the cloud and this growing market segment. We can’t wait to see what customers do with it,” said Matt Prechtel, the Business Area Manager for AMERGINT’s Cloud Products and Solutions.
The cloud solutions will enable scalability, resilience, and acceleration to on orbit operations.
“Our launch of Azure Orbital will enable our partners’ customers to on-ramp their data into Azure where it can immediately be processed with market-leading data analytics, geospatial tools and machine learning services, adding another layer of automation and intelligence in their networks,” said Jeff Cohen, Partner Program Manager of Azure Networking at Microsoft.
The first MEO ground stations will be located in Phoenix, Arizona and Quincy, Washington in the United States.
2. Upgrades to Azure’s AI-powered Cognitive Services
A series of new innovations to Azure’s AI-powered Cognitive Services were announced at Ignite 2020 to empower businesses in making responsible decisions.
Azure Cognitive Services introduced spatial analysis, a new AI-driven function that allows organisations to aggregate the logistics at a venue when planning for an event, which is of increasing importance during the pandemic where social distancing is imperative.
Spatial analysis will provide companies with the insights they need to navigate the post COVID-19 ‘new normal’. Its functions will include counting the number of people in the room, measuring the distance between individuals to abide by social distancing measures, and monitoring wait and dwell times during an event.
RXR, one of New York City’s largest real estate companies, embedded spatial analysis in their RxWell app to ensure occupants’ safety and wellness.
“The RxWell program provides our customers the tools they need to safely navigate the ‘new abnormal’ of COVID-19 and beyond,” said Scott Rechler, the Chairman and CEO of RXR Realty.
Next, Azure Cognitive Services introduced Metrics Advisor, a new service that helps organisations monitor metrics and detect anomalies in their systems in real-time.
By combining real-time monitoring, auto-tuning AI models, alerting, and root cause analysis, Metrics Advisor is able to proactively and quickly pick up and fix issues before they snowball into significant technical failures.
“Metrics Advisor helps capture potential network device failures in time so that we can react instantly. It reduces incoming customer call bottlenecks and improves customer satisfaction,“ said João Ferreira, the Director of Product Development at NOS, a telecommunications company in Portugal.
The solution will require no machine learning expertise, as it implements Azure Machine Learning’s no-code automated machine learning and drag and drop designer.
“By using Azure Machine Learning designer, we were able to quickly release a valuable tool built on machine learning insights that predicted occupancy in trains, promoting social distancing in the fight against COVID-19,” said Steffen Pedersen, the Head of AI and Advanced Analytics at DSB, a top transport company in Denmark.
The Azure Machine Learning solutions are now generally available.
3. Azure expands hybrid cloud capabilities
New enhancements to Azure Arc were revealed at Ignite 2020, which are set to give users greater flexibility in accessing company resources, especially as the rise in remote working continues.
Azure Arc data services, Azure SQL Managed Instance and Azure PostgreSQL Hyperscale can now run across on-premise data centers, multicloud, and the edge. Both services can also now work in connected and disconnected modes.
Azure Arc enabled servers are now generally available, giving users access to Windows and Linux servers both on physical and virtual machines across multicloud and multi-edge environments.
Organisations can now manage, secure and update servers under a single control panel from the Azure Arc portal. This would allow organisations to standardise role-based access control across all their servers to meet compliance requirements.
On top of this, Microsoft has launched new Azure Stack capabilities to help customers modernise their data centers.
First, customers can now get Azure Kubernetes Services on Azure Stack hyper-converged infrastructure, enabling customers with a consistent, secure, and fully managed Kubernetes experience.
The Azure Stack Hub will also be available with GPUs through a partnership with AMD to bring the AMD Mi25 GPU to the Hub. This is said to empower visualisation intense apps by allowing users to share the GPU in an efficient way.
Finally, Microsoft has made their Azure VMware Solution generally available, giving customers the ability to migrate VMware workloads to the cloud with minimal complexity.
4. Rebrands and upgrades to Defender
Microsoft rebranded its cybersecurity service, Windows Defender to Microsoft Defender last year. At Ignite 2020, Microsoft announced plans to group more of its existing products under its Defender series.
The Microsoft Defender line will include Microsoft 365 Defender, Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Microsoft Defender for Office 365, and Microsoft Defender for Identity.
While the Azure Defender line for cloud will include Azure Defender for Storage, Azure Defender for IoT, and Azure Defender for SQL.
As to new upgrades, Microsoft will integrate the cybersecurity functions of its newly-acquired subsidiary, CyberX into Azure Defender for IoT.
Azure Sentinel, Microsoft’s cloud-native security information event management (SIEM) platform, now has two new features: user and entity behavior analytics and threat intelligence.
New functions include the ability to search, add, and track threat indicators, perform threat intelligence look-ups, and enrichments, as well as creating watchlists for hunting threats would allow organisations to detect and solve threats faster.
5. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare
The tech behemoth is also expanding its services in healthcare. Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will leverage its cloud technology to enhance patient engagement in every stage of the healthcare process.
From telehealth to follow-ups after treatment, Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will deploy cloud-powered solutions to monitor the well-being of a patient anytime, anywhere.
“At this time in history, it’s so important to have a cloud environment that endeavors to improve patient care, improve experiences for patients and the healthcare providers, and better engage patients all the way around,” said Lynne Dunbrack, the Group VP for IDC Public Sector.
On the patient’s side, functions such as online booking, bill payment, and interactive health management will encourage patients to keep track of their health.
The Booking function on Microsoft Teams will also be part of Cloud for Healthcare’s core functions for its users. Teams will enable virtual consultations between patients and doctors by allowing the latter to access a patient’s healthcare record through an electronic health record (EHR) system.
Matt Kull, the CIO of Cleveland Clinic believes Microsoft will be able to play a critical role in two key functions of healthcare. The first is interoperability between systems, allowing healthcare workers to take data from health records and other data sources and combine it together into a single place where it can be used to inform and deliver patient-centric care.
The second is to enable real-time complex deep learning by normalising data from different systems in a way that allows complex algorithmic analyses to occur via AI or ML, and integrate research-based insights back into a clinical workflow.
Microsoft Cloud for Healthcare will be available on October 30.