At the virtual Ignite conference 2021, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella made exciting new announcements and innovations across artificial intelligence (AI), security, enterprise collaboration, Metaverse and more.
Retrospecting the rapid changes across the industry in the last few years, Nadella said that the case of ‘digital transformation’ has never been more urgent. He said that digital technology is a powerful deflationary force in an inflationary economy, where businesses small and large can improve their productivity and the affordability of their products and services by building tech intensity.
“We are moving from a mobile and cloud era to an era of ubiquitous computing and ambient intelligence – an era which will experience more digitisation over the next ten years than the last 40,” said Nadella.
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Besides this, he highlighted various trends transforming businesses globally, particularly touching upon various aspects of hybrid work, hyper-connected businesses, digital capabilities, and cybersecurity.
Nadella believes that its Microsoft Cloud addresses present-day challenges alongside helping enterprises navigate these converging secular trends. Moreover, he said that it is the most trusted and comprehensive cloud, where it powers every organisation’s digital capability while ensuring its independence and sovereignty over it. “The ‘Microsoft Cloud’ is built on trust and security,” he added.
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Further, he said that it also addresses sustainability concerns. “It is not just about our carbon footprint on our own data centres, but creating an entirely new ‘business process category’ to help every organisation address this very urgent need,” said Nadella, revealing plans to launch a tool to measure carbon footprint for businesses.
He believes that in the coming years, digital capability around sustainability will be as critical for businesses as CRM for sales and ERP for finances today,” said Nadella. Last month, Google had also made similar announcements. It had launched Carbon Cloud Emission Data, a new service to measure, track and report the carbon emission associated with Google Cloud usage, alongside hybrid work environments.
New Announcements & Upgrades:
At Ignite, Microsoft introduced more than 90 new services and updates in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365 and other applications. “Just like Microsoft Teams has transformed collaboration and productivity, Microsoft Loop is the next big breakthrough in Microsoft 365,” said Nadella.
He said Loop is a new application for communication first and AI-first world. “We are composing people’s content, comments, chats, reactions, and live business process data even together into a new collaborative canvas. And we are reimagining how anyone can contribute directly in the flow of their work, whether it is from a chat, email meeting or a document,” said Nadella. Microsoft Loop is similar to Google Wave, the real-time collaboration platform launched in 2009 and prematurely shut in 2010.
Microsoft also launched a new Microsoft customer experience platform, which helps organisations have complete control of their own customer data. “This will be so key that every business will need to have autonomy over their data state and how it is being used to enhance their customer relations,” added Nadella.
In addition to this, Microsoft also announced new capabilities of Azure Ark. It believes that Ark is the first of its kind control panel extending Azure Security Governance dev tools and managed Azure services to any infrastructure, whether it is on-premise multi-cloud or at the edge.
The new update for Azure Arc includes:
- Deeper support for VMware vSphere
- New integrations with Azure Stack HCI
- Arc-enabled data services enhancements
Last but not least, Microsoft said that it is building end-to-end solutions in security that span all clouds and all platforms, including small and medium-sized businesses, with the new defender for businesses and more.
Other Major Announcements
Here are some of the other key announcements made at Ignite 2021:
Throwing light on how Fortune 500 are using Microsoft Azure to power their critical workloads, Nadella said they are taking the AI breakthroughs and translating them into platforms for customers to build upon – be it deploying intelligence agents to speed up customer service or extracting insights from volumes of unstructured data.
“Five years ago here at Ignite, we shared with you the world’s first AI supercomputer. Today, we have the most powerful AI supercomputer in the world,” said Nadella, saying that customers are using this infrastructure to address these massive challenges.
For example, AMD uses it to design the next generation of processors with tens of billions of transistors on each chip. In addition, researchers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands have used its technology to run large scale simulations on the answer cloud platform, which is hosted on Azure, to understand better how COVID-19 can be spread by aerosol particles in highly populated areas like a stadium.
Last month, in partnership with Microsoft, NVIDIA launched the Megatron-Turing Natural Language Generation (MT-NLG) model with 530 billion parameters. Talking about this development, Nadella said that it offers unmatched accuracy across a very broad set of natural language tasks.
Further, he said that they trained ZCode, a multilingual model that combines several languages so that individual languages can learn from each other with much lower data requirements than ever before. “You will continue to see us take these incredible breakthroughs like these and turn them into new capabilities for our customers, whether it is speech transcription, translation in PowerPoint, or now 100 plus languages and dialects we support in Microsoft Translator,” he added.
Azure OpenAI Service
Nadella lauded OpenAI and said that it had released GPT-3, a breakthrough in natural language understanding and generation model. “In the last 6 months, we have taken the power of these models and made them available across its products,” he added, stating that domain experts access GPT-3 through Power Platform and assist pro developers with coding through GitHub Co-Pilot powered by OpenAI’s Codex.
He said that they are committed to turning the world’s most powerful large scale models ever built into platforms for customers to meet the unique needs of their business, announcing the launch of Azure OpenAI service. The new service gives customers access to OpenAI’s powerful GPT-3 models, along with security, compliance, reliability, data privacy, and other enterprise-grade capabilities that are built into Microsoft Azure.
Identity & Team Collaboration
Nadella said in the physical/real world, identity has always been important to establishing trust and driving commerce. In the virtual world, this is even more critical. But, he said, think about it in our interconnected world; we collaborate digitally within our own organisation and with our customers, partners, and suppliers. “Whether it is hybrid work, or hyper-connected business, multi-cloud, multi-edge computing, our zero-trust security requires a boundary-less digital ecosystem, where trust between different parties needs to be established in real-time,” added Nadella.
At Ignite 2021, Microsoft said it is building the identity system of the future – a connective network that enables people, organisations, apps, and even smart things to make real-time access decisions. It said that it started with Azure AD, which extends beyond securing and managing access to define customer journey and business collaboration with anyone.
“This trust fabric is what makes experiences like Teams Connect possible today,” said Nadella. He said with Teams Connect, powered by their identity platform, customers can establish trusted, secure, and seamless collaboration across organisational boundaries in a matter of minutes instead of days or even weeks.
“As the ‘digital and physical worlds come together, we are creating an entirely new platform layer, which is the ‘Metaverse,'” said Nadella. He said we are bringing people, places, and things together with the digital world in both the consumer space and the enterprise. This announcement of Microsoft comes to light after Facebook (now known as Meta) recently announced its rebranding to focus on building a Metaverse platform.
But there is a twist to Microsoft’s version of the Metaverse. It is building it for both customers as well as enterprises. “When we talk about the ‘Metaverse,’ we are describing both a ‘new platform’ and a ‘new application’ type. Similar to how we talked about the websites in the early 90s,” said Nadella, stating that it will be integrated across Azure, IoT, Azure Digital Twins to Connected Spaces and Microsoft Mesh.
“We are building the Metaverse intrinsics. The ‘Metaverse platform’ for you to build upon. In a sense, the Metaverse enables us to ’embed computing’ into the real world and to ’embed the real world’ into computing, bringing real presence to any digital space,” said Nadella.
Further, he said for years; they have talked about creating this digital representation of the world. But now, they have the opportunity to go into that world and participate in it. “What is most important is that we are able to bring our humanity with us and choose how we want to experience this world and who we want to interact with,” said Nadella.
The Microsoft version of the Metaverse is no longer just looking at a camera view of a factory floor – you can be on the floor. It is no longer just video conferencing with colleagues – you can be with them in the same room. It is no longer playing a game with friends – you can be in the game with them. “We are taking these ‘platform capabilities’ and building them into our own ‘first-party applications’ like Teams features like grid views,” said Nadella, intending to create immersive experiences of collaboration.
“But, human presence is the ultimate connection,” said Nadella. He said when you and I can have a meeting where we are all present together without physically being present, that is the next big breakthrough. Microsoft claimed to be approaching this thoughtfully and bringing this into the digital world. “Mesh for Microsoft Teams will allow you to connect with presence and have a shared immersive experience directly in teams,” said Nadella.
Accenture is currently using Microsoft Metaverse solution to create an immersive experience (Source: Microsoft Ignite 2021)
“Of course, these experiences are just incredible when experienced on any VR or AR headsets from Oculus to HoloLens,” said Nadella. He said Metaverse is not just transforming how we see the world is changing, but also how we actively participate in it. “We can’t just wait to see what you build and how you bring people together with this technology,” said Nadella.