The future of Azure is more Azure. Much, much, much more Azure. Microsoft is trying to create a world where every computing, mobile and smart device connects to with Azure, where Azure becomes the cloud computing backbone used by a worldwide network of partners supporting the digital transformation Microsoft believes is changing every industry. This article will give a brief explanation of why and how Microsoft tries to increase Azure usage in the near future.
When everything moves (back) to the cloud
Computing has come almost full circle. It started with giant centralized mainframes in the early 50’s. Then the early internet, Arpanet, connected these for efficient usage. IT moved on premise with the rise of personal computing. Moore’s law then made the supercomputers of the past powerful enough to fit in a smartphone, and cheap enough to make smart devices ever more ubiquitous. Finally, highspeed broadband and 4G/5G connections provide stable connections to these devices and enable them to continuously connect to and communicate with powerful datacenters across the globe. Now, once again, computing, networking and storage are being centralized into a few giant clouds, run by hyperscalers such as AWS, Google Cloud and of course Microsoft Azure.
Now you don’t own music anymore, Spotify streams it when you want it. Google Assistant can translate real-time between two languages by using the cloud. Alexa can answer your question and order products for you by using machine learning and AI in the cloud. Microsoft is doing the same thing with its own software and even hardware. Office turned into Office 365. Windows is moving to the cloud as Azure Virtual Desktop. And just recently Microsoft announced project xCloud, using actual Xbox One consoles in its Azure datacenters to stream Xbox games.
In the future devices will either deliver a rising number of services allowing its users to do more, using the scale, flexibility and raw-power of the cloud. Or they can become ever cheaper as more of the device’s functionality is offloaded to the cloud.
Digital transformation at Microsoft, by Microsoft (and you!)
The developments described above mean Azure is growing. In fact, as the current number two in the market, it’s growing almost twice as fast as AWS, the current market leader. And with 54 regions, Azure has a larger global footprint than AWS and Google Cloud combined. There’s an obvious reason for all that. When Satya Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer as Microsoft’s CEO, the company got a whole new strategy and underwent several major transformations.
Calculating the wave of business innovation, caused by cloud technologies such as IoT, AR/VR, machine learning and AI and Big Data, to be worth a staggering 4.5 trillion dollar (yes, trillion, as in 1,000 billion), Microsoft went full in on the digital transformation, believing that every company is essentially a software company. That’s why Microsoft went from an on premise (Windows server, Azure Pack), one-time license based model (Windows, Office) to a cloud first, usage based business model. Hence Microsoft’s current push of Office 365, Microsoft 365 and most of all, Azure.
Microsoft also started embracing instead of attacking Linux and the open source community at large. They not just adopted the slogan ‘Microsoft loves Linux’, they also dropped several lawsuits and joined the Open Invention Network set up to protect Linux from patent lawsuits by providing royalty free usage of patent portfolios. They needed to, because Linux and open source continue to play an important role in cloud computing. In fact at least 40% (up from 30% just a year before!) of all virtual machines running in Azure today are Linux machines, while the entire Azure networking stack actually runs on a Debian instance. The future of Azure surely includes Linux.
Microsoft also introduced a new partner model, the One Commercial Partner model, which changed everything from the way it supports partners (everyone is now an enterprise partner, getting the same support from Microsoft) to Microsoft introducing new stricter requirements for CSP direct partners in an effort to push many of its direct partners towards its distributors, called indirect provider partners.
As Microsoft continues to phase out its incentives for on premise solutions and keeps adding cloud solutions to its CSP model, the focus on growing Azure will only intensify.
Smart everything, everywhere
- Azure Stack pushes Azure to the very edge. Not every location is connected constantly through fast enough connections to enable the throughput of fast quantities of data. Not all data can reside on the public cloud, or leave the country. With Azure Stack, Microsoft delivers a way to fix these gaps, by providing the power of Azure, at any possible location on premise and at the edge.
- Azure Digital Twins allows for a deeper understanding of the physical world, where people, things and places interact in ever increasing complex ways, by creating a digital duplicate in the cloud. Or in other words, a virtual copy of a real-world environment. The smart devices measure and interact with the environment, it’s things and people. Azure provides scalability, reliability, security, compliance, and privacy needed for cloud computing, enabling organizations and governments to create a ‘smart everything, everywhere world’ And just imagine the future possibilities when a smart world and Azure cloud are combined with the HoloLens AR technology also under development by Microsoft.
- Azure IoT Edge provides the bridge between the cloud and the edge, allowing companies to use AI, Azure services and custom logic directly on cross-platform IoT devices. IoT Edge modules run Azure or third-party services (or custom code) and are deployed to Edge devices to execute locally. IoT Edge runtime runs on the device and manages the modules deployed. Finally, management can be done using a cloud-based interface. And it even allows devices to go offline for an indefinite amount of time, essential for certain IoT devices.
- Azure Sphere is Microsoft’s possible solution to IoTs current security problem. Most smart devices’ firmware won’t or even can’t be updated, leading to major privacy and security issues, including IoT botnets and ways for hackers into otherwise secure networks. Azure Sphere promotes security with crossover MCUs, a secured OS, and a turnkey cloud security service. The first development board is already available, and of course more Azure Sphere enabled IoT devices will further drive Azure usage.
The intelligent cloud
Smart devices need intelligence from the cloud to actually be smart at what they do. By combining huge quantities of data, commonly referred to as Big Data, and machine learning in the cloud companies can create some truly inspiring things. From Google’s Deepmind effort to (successfully!) beat the world’s best Go players, to Infervision using deep learning and image recognition to support doctors in spotting lung cancer on CT scans. Microsoft is positioning its Azure cloud platform to be right in the middle of the future wave of AI based innovations. Here’s just a few examples of developments recently announced by Microsoft:
- SQL Server 2019 has big data capabilities built-in, and for the first time it combines SQL server with support for both Apache Spark and Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS) to create a unified data platform. With SQL Server Machine Learning Services and Spark Machine Learning (ML), organizations can create AI-driven insights over all their data, regardless of data type. SQL Server 2019 can be run on premise, on Azure and on Azure Stack, creating opportunities for hybrid cloud scenarios.
- Azure SQL Database Hyperscale allows companies to scale their database in the cloud and adapt on-demand to what its workloads need. It can scale up rapidly to a staggering 100 TB for a single instance, and scale down again just as quickly when the work(load) is done.
- net is a machine learning framework from Microsoft that has gone from research project, through internal machine learning engine for Office, Xbox and Azure to open source, free to use for commercial applications, cross-platform framework. Infer.net can actually create learning algorithms for you, based on the model provided. One of Microsoft’s own examples include it going through millions of Xbox matches of games such as Halo 5 and Gears of War to create a system for automatically pairing evenly matched online gamers.
- Cortana Skills Kit for Enterprises, while still invite only, is a Skills kit that combines the Azure Bot Services and language understanding from Azure Cognitive Services. Microsoft thinks voice and natural language will become the primary ways of interacting with technology the near future and could have an impact on domains ranging from support and sales to smart buildings and smart cities. All supported by the Azure cloud, of course.
The future of Azure is now
This article started with the question of why and how Microsoft tries to position Azure as the cloud platform of choice by a, rapidly increasing, number of enterprises. Of course, part of that future is already here, including developments in Big Data, AI, machine learning, IoT and edge computing. We live in a connected world that is rapidly becoming smarter. The digital transformation is already well under way, as the examples mentioned in this article underline.
Azure is already the second biggest cloud platform, after AWS. Not everything is moving to the cloud, but a lot is. So much in fact that the business opportunities are huge. Azure is growing fast, Microsoft will continue to push its partners through development, investments and incentives to increase Azure usage. The future of Azure is here, how will you benefit from it?
Resello is a cloud-only distributor and Microsoft CSP indirect provider from the Netherlands. Our automation platform helps VARs, MSPs, telcos, webhosters and ISVs run a successful cloud business. Learn more about Resello on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or visit Resello at booth number 77 for a chance to win an Azure Sphere development board!