Microsoft Build 2017: All About Embrace And Extend – Forbes
Last week was a busy one for tech industry analysts—I started out at Dell EMC World in Las Vegas, attended Microsoft Build 2017 in Seattle and then went back to Dell EMC World. Build is Microsoft’s annual developer conference, targeted at the software, services and hardware developer community. I attend the event every year as it provides industry and of course, Microsoft guidance. Build is chock full of announcements, and many of the important ones are showcased during the conference keynotes. Here’s my rundown of the bigger stories coming out of Day 1 and 2 of the conference, and my take on them. Note that our senior cloud analyst Rhett Dillingham is covering all Azure-cloud related news from the event, so I’ll be skipping over most of those announcements in my analysis here.
Satya Nadella’s introduction
As is customary at these big industry events, the keynote was kicked off by CEO Satya Nadella. He started off by waxing nostalgic about the early days of Microsoft, cracking a joke about the inverse relationship between his own hairline and the amount of computing power of Microsoft. Nadella always has a way of pulling these jokes like few others in the industry. I did see pictures of Nadella when he had hair and I’m feeling pretty good about my receded hairline. Nadella emphasized that with the increase of data over the past several years, the ability for developers to make a lasting impact has never been greater. He is absolutely right when you look at machine learning, IoT, and the cloud.
Nadella also recognized the responsibility that comes along with being tech pioneers, as well as unintended consequences of technological advancement. On that note, he emphasized the need to empower people with technology—to amplify their capabilities and ingenuity, and keep them at the forefront of all that Microsoft builds. I thought this was a nice point to make—I know there’s a lot of people out there who are worried about losing their jobs to machines, amongst other possible consequences of digital transformation. It’s important that these big tech companies establish a modicum of trust with the public, and I think Microsoft is doing its best.
Microsoft can stand on its bully pulpit here because, unlike, Google and Facebook, Microsoft’s prime objective is not building personal profiles to improve advertising or creating new advertising platforms. It’s a purer story for businesses.
Introducing the Azure IoT Edge platform
Microsoft has been a little quieter than some companies in regard to IoT and exposed many good examples at its Digital Difference event I attended last month. IoT is a challenging prospect for everyone as it’s an amalgamation of so many different things that have to go right for a good business and technical outcome. Nadella introduced Sam George, Partner Director of Azure Internet of Things, to talk a bit about Sandvik Coromant, a Swedish industrial automation company that is currently running the new Azure IoT Edge platform. Azure IoT Edge was designed to deliver cloud capabilities such as advanced analytics, machine learning and AI to IoT devices on the edge. Microsoft claims that this gives businesses the best of both worlds by allowing devices to act locally with the data they generate out on the edge, while simultaneously being able to take advantage of the cloud when it comes to configuration, deployment, and management. I like the sound of this and this is what companies want, but I need to do the deep double-click to examine it more closely. Another interesting aspect to this is that Azure IoT Edge can still operate with offline and intermittent connectivity—syncing back with the bigger cloud once reconnected. This is an IoT reality that persistent connectivity cannot ever be guaranteed and glad to see Microsoft supporting the sync feature. It’s harder than you might think to sync.
Nadella took the stage again to showcase his vision of a futuristic, safe, IoT driven workplace—utilizing the new Azure IoT Edge (in conjunction with the storage and computation of Azure Stack), to power cognitive functions that reduce workplace accidents. In a demonstration by Andrea Carl, Director of Commercial Communications, we saw how site managers could potentially use functions like Computer Vision with commodity cameras to perform a variety of tasks: identifying potential workplace hazards before someone gets hurt, locating tools within a construction site, making sure only properly trained workers are using dangerous power tools. Though these smart workplaces haven’t quite taken over yet, the technology is there, and I think we’re going to see a lot more of this in the years to come. I have to say, the light bulbs went off in my head regarding privacy.
Enterprises will need to very closely assess which companies they can trust and secure monitoring their employees and physical assets.
I was so struck at the huge demo differences between Microsoft at Build and Facebook F8. Facebook’s video AI parser took a video, identifies every object and context and talked about how great it is for ads and profiles. Microsoft was talking about workplace safety.