Microsoft’s 2021 Ignite Conference, the tech giant’s annual event for developers and IT professionals, gave us an exciting slate of product announcements and enhancements. Data availability and analytics anywhere were themes throughout the conference and clearly an emphasis for Microsoft moving forward.
Companies today have data in many different locations and formats – creating a necessity for solutions that enable efficient access and organization of the data. Microsoft has committed to building the infrastructure and products to support this goal, while also enabling the ability to derive value using advanced analytics and machine learning techniques. Read on below as we highlight the Ignite announcements that we are most excited about surrounding data access and advanced analytics.
Deploy Machine Learning Models Anywhere
Released last year, Azure-Arc is going through some exciting updates for current Azure users. Azure-Arc provides consistent application monitoring, compliance, and operation across many different resources. These can range from on-prem compute resources, IoT devices at the edge, and (as of this recent update) Kubernetes distributions anywhere. Azure-Arc brings all these resources into one seamless platform to streamline monitoring, deployment, and hosting of any cloud application.
Also announced at the 2021 Ignite Conference – the beta-release of Azure Arc-enabled machine learning. This brings together the flexibility and visibility of Azure-Arc with the powerful analytical capabilities of Azure Machine Learning. It will now be possible to design machine learning processes and data flows in Azure Machine Learning and deploy these models across any Kubernetes cluster within the Azure-Arc environment. Data scientists can now build models using the familiar Azure Machine Learning platform and deploy anywhere, without having to worry about the architectural considerations of Kubernetes.
Control All Business Data from One Application
Azure Purview is a unified data governance service that provides insight into and control over your organization’s data. We think of it as a tool to catalog and make sense of all business-critical data. Microsoft is now releasing a preview of the capability to automatically scan and classify data that resides in AWS S3 buckets, SAP ECC, SAP S4/HANA, and/or Oracle Databases. This means Azure Purview is no longer restrained to data that resides within the Azure ecosystem.
Organizations today have a diverse set of cloud services and providers that make up their data architecture, and now Azure Purview can be used as the tool to manage and understand all of it. This eliminates the need for a separate ETL tool to interface with these third-party data sources and enhances your understanding of mission critical data architecture.
Automate Repetitive Daily Tasks
Last year Microsoft introduced Power Automate Desktop, a low-code RPA (Robotic Process Automation) tool used for automating repetitive tasks. This year, they announced that this application will be available to all Windows 10 users at no additional cost. The platform allows the user to automate ‘busy work’ such as downloading the same data from a website every day or transferring old data to an archive. This allows you to focus on higher value work, while still completing the necessary daily tasks that can be time-intensive to do manually.
Power Automate is also available with additional licenses – introducing more than 400 connectors to Azure services and third-party applications. Power Automate allows for more complex processes to be automated such as downloading payroll reports from Salesforce or pulling documents from Azure storage. We are in the early days of RPA, and the rollout of Power Automate Desktop to more than 1 billion Windows 10 users globally will certainly speed up the adoption of this exciting technology.
Run Real-Time Analytics on Transactional Data
Microsoft also announced the full release of Azure Synapse Link for Cosmos DB. Cosmos DB is Microsoft’s fully managed NoSQL database service that powers many of the most popular applications in the world. Azure Synapse Analytics is an analytics service that brings together data engineering and big data analytics. With the release of Azure Synapse Link for Cosmos DB, you can now run real-time analytics on the NoSQL data housed in Cosmos DB, without relying on a separate ETL tool.
This advancement removes the traditional barrier between transactional data and analytical data. It is now possible to run analytical processes directly on the transactional data housed in Cosmos DB. Analytics can now update by the second, instead of waiting on expensive ETL processes to run overnight.
Run AI Models in IoT Devices
Azure Percept is a comprehensive platform that allows developers to build and deploy AI applications in lower-power audio and visual devices, now available in Preview. Pre-built AI models, hardware and integration with Azure services enable exciting use cases such as object detection, shelf analytics and anomaly detection.
Running AI applications within edge devices requires a platform like Azure Percept because edge compute resources are very limited compared to traditional compute environments. Azure Percept is currently limited to a relatively small number of audio and visual use cases, but as the platform grows, potential use cases will grow with it. AI-powered edge devices are in their early days, and Azure Percept will surely empower a lot of the growth in this exciting space.
What’s Next After the 2021 Ignite Conference
It’s an exciting time to be building data applications with the Microsoft technology stack, with a platform-wide focus on data availability and advanced analytics. Microsoft is building the tools necessary for any business to become data-driven and leverage cutting-edge technology. We’ve only just scratched the surface of the possibilities within the Azure ecosystem for building enterprise-scale data applications. More information on the announcements from the 2021 Ignite Conference can be found at Microsoft’s website here. Happy building!
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Coauthor and contributions by Aaron Wasserman