August 20, 2017

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Microsoft Build 2017 conference this week told developers that a new era of computing enabled by the rise of microservices and artificial intelligence (AI) applications is now upon us.

The previous era of computing was defined mainly by mobile applications accessing application logic in the cloud. The new era will be defined by application logic running both in the cloud and at the edge of the network.

To provide a platform for building a new generation of internet of things (IoT) applications based on that new model, Microsoft is making available a preview edition of Azure IoT Edge, an instance of the Azure cloud operating environment that has been made small enough to deployed at the edge of the network. That platform is designed to run applications made up of Docker containers that can be pushed out from the Microsoft Azure cloud, says Nadella.

To help drive those applications, Microsoft also announced Windows Server Containers support in Azure Service Fabric that can be invoked using Microsoft Visual Studio, and previewed the ability to use Docker Compose support for Service Fabric to deploy containerized apps to the Azure Service Fabric.

At the same time, Nadella says, the future of cloud computing increasingly will be defined by serverless computing frameworks. Rather than being confined to a limited set of virtual machine resources, a new generation of AI-fueled applications will be able to dynamically invoke compute resources on demand. Nadella essentially laid out an ambitious agenda that will put Microsoft at the forefront of a new era of computing.

To put some substance behind that vision, Microsoft also unveiled Azure Cosmos DB, which it described as the first globally distributed, multimodel database service to deliver horizontal scale with guaranteed uptime, throughput, consistency and single-digit millisecond latency. Because Azure Cosmos DB is a schema-free database, it can support multiple SQL and NoSQL application programming interfaces (APIs). At the same time, Microsoft is adding MySQL and PostgreSQL managed services as a complement to its existing managed Azure SQL database service.

Obviously, Microsoft is not the only cloud platform and service provider with similar ambitions. Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, has already launched a AWS Lambda serverless computing framework that connects to IoT applications. But Nadella is a lot more focused on distributing a new generation of AI applications across a federated environment that spans all the way out to the network edge.

The challenge Nadella is making to the developer community is to make sure those applications enhance the human condition using interfaces such as Siri rather than building applications that would fuel concerns of a more dystopian future of AI applications that eliminate jobs without creating new ones or giving totalitarian governments more control over citizenry.

But, given the fact that the AI genie is already out of the bottle, the degree to which an IT vendor even the size of Microsoft can influence that outcome is debatable.

Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist with over 25 years of experience. He also contributed to IT Business Edge, Channel Insider, Baseline and a variety of other IT titles. Previously, Vizard was the editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise as well as Editor-in-Chief for CRN and InfoWorld.