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What’s new in Azure Data, AI, and Digital Applications: Harness the power of intelligent apps 

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Sharing insights on technology transformation along with important updates and resources about the data, AI, and digital application solutions that make Microsoft Azure the platform for the era of AI.

As companies race to build or modernize intelligent apps that incorporate generative AI, many are finding gaps in their tech-stack modernization efforts as they explore and test use cases. 

Recently, Microsoft commissioned Forrester Consulting to evaluate modernization efforts at global organizations. The study found that nearly 90% of decision makers said they have a modern tech foundation and are ready for the future. The study also found there’s a perception gap and many aren’t as ready as they think they are. Some still deal with inflexible, outdated, and brittle legacy software systems that stifle innovation and leave substantial room for improvement. 

Some of this comes from a cloud approach focused on migration. There is a lot to gain simply in migrating to the cloud, but modernization is much more than lift and shift—it’s about what you can do once you get there. 

The study also found that one in five companies surveyed are overcoming foundational barriers in their application modernization journey to bring critical value back to the business. These companies are doing a few common things: implementing a clear technology strategy built around AI and training, integrating analytics and key metrics to connect with business outcomes, and upgrading technology stacks, supported by strategic partnerships with relevant suppliers. In adopting these practices, these companies can move rapidly to address internal gaps and overcome thorny challenges in the way of their modernization goals. 

Is your tech stack AI-ready? Are you looking for best practices to help execute your modernization strategy? Want to learn more about the Forrester study? Join us on May 8, 2024 for our next Microsoft Azure webinar: “Harness the Power of Intelligent Apps: Modernize with Azure.” In addition to hearing from me, you’ll hear from: 

  • Amanda Silver on “Powering Future Innovation with Azure Application Platform”
  • Ali Powell on “Vision to Value: Accelerating Modernization to Azure with Azure Customer Success”
  • Cyril Belikoff on “Empowering Modernization with Microsoft Programs, Offers, and Partner Ecosystem (Closing Keynote)”

And we’ll be joined by Bill Martorelli, Principal Analyst at Forrester, who will discuss the study. 

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Join us for the Azure webinar series

"Harness the Power of Intelligent Apps: Modernize with Azure"

Next, here is the latest from Microsoft data, AI, and digital apps to help you with your modernization.

What’s new in data, AI, and digital applications 

Snowflake partnership extends Azure options for your data 

One of the most empowering things Microsoft does for customers is forge partnerships with companies who extend the value of our platform. Snowflake is a great example of this in action. I had the opportunity to join Snowflake Chief Marketing Officer Denise Persson to talk about how we work together to help customers make the most of their data to drive AI transformation. Partnerships like these are just one more reason why Azure is the best cloud for your data. 

More choiceMicrosoft Azure AI model catalog of open and frontier models just got bigger with additions from Snowflake, Microsoft Research, Meta, Databricks, and more 

Azure AI Catalog screenshots showing featured models

The Azure AI model catalog now offers more than 1,600 foundation models (large language models (LLMs) and small language models (SLMs)) enabling Azure customers to choose the best model for their use case. Our catalog continues to grow, with the addition of new cutting-edge models, including Snowflake Arctic, Meta Llama 3, databricks/dbrx-base and databricks/dbrx-instruct, and Microsoft’s Phi-3 family of open models, the most capable and cost-effective small language models available, outperforming models of the same size and next size up across a variety of language, coding, and math benchmarks. The new models not only expand our catalog, but also enhance our ability to meet diverse enterprise demands.  

Azure AI Search now has significantly increased storage capacity and vector index size at no additional cost. To support increased demand for retrieval augmented generation (RAG) and generative AI applications at scale, AI Search has drastically raised storage limits, giving customers more vectors per dollar without compromising high performance. With this change, customers can achieve more scalability at a lower cost, trust AI Search to handle their large RAG workloads, and apply advanced search strategies to navigate complex data to innovate in ways previously unimaginable. 

Microsoft announces new industrial AI innovations from the cloud to the factory floor 

We announced new AI-driven solutions for manufacturing that aim to unify data estates, enhance operational resilience, and empower front-line workers with AI copilots for efficient data querying and issue resolution. The private preview includes Microsoft Fabric data solutions and the Microsoft Copilot for Azure AI template, promising to optimize operations and accelerate AI integration across global manufacturing sites. 

From cloud to edge, CPUs to GPUs, and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs), the AI hardware and software landscape is expanding at an impressive rate. Our new “Microsoft Azure: The State of AI Infrastructure” report helps you keep up with the current state of AI, its trends and challenges, and to learn about best practices for building and deploying scalable and efficient AI systems. Read the inaugural blog in our new Infrastructure for the Era of AI series for more and to download the report. 

Mirroring in Microsoft Fabric for Azure SQL Database and Azure Cosmos DB now in public preview 

Azure SQL Database Mirroring in Microsoft Fabric continuously replicates your SQL data into Delta tables in Microsoft Fabric’s OneLake in near real-time. This new feature helps avoid complex and time-consuming extract, transform, load (ETL) processes and enables faster time to insights. Mirroring further reduces your overall total cost of ownership with zero compute and storage costs to replicate, helping you quickly and cost-effectively respond to changes in your business. 

With Azure Cosmos DB Mirroring in Microsoft Fabric, you can seamlessly bring your Azure Cosmos DB data into OneLake in Microsoft Fabric with no-ETL and near real-time insights on your operational data, allowing you to react more quickly to changes in your business environment and market conditions. 

Microsoft Azure Database for PostgreSQL: New AI capabilities in Azure AI extension and new migration service 

The Azure AI extension in public preview now includes real-time predictions to invoke machine learning models hosted on Microsoft Azure Machine Learning online endpoints. This is extremely helpful for building fraud detection in banking, product recommendations in retail, patient predictions in healthcare, and more. Also new is real-time text translation using Microsoft Azure AI Translator to translate text from within SQL. This facilitates building intelligent multilingual applications on Azure Database for PostgreSQL. It also supports automatically detecting the language of the input text and filtering profanities.  

A new migration service now generally available simplifies the process of moving PostgreSQL databases from anywhere to Azure. The service offers both offline and online migration options from an on-premises server, AWS RDS for PostgreSQL, Azure Virtual Machines (VMs), and Azure Database for PostgreSQL—Single Server. The service helps customers move to Azure Database for PostgreSQL—Flexible Server with ease and confidence. 

Microsoft Defender for Cloud now supports Azure Database for MySQL—Flexible Server 

Protect databases from threats without affecting performance or availability, and lower the risk of data breaches, attacks, and unauthorized access with security monitoring of anomalous or suspicious activities. Customers can easily enable Defender for Cloud from the Azure Portal to start getting security alerts and insights for Azure Database for MySQL—Flexible Server and receive recommendations to mitigate potentially harmful threats. Learn more about Defender for Cloud

Healthcare data solutions in Microsoft Fabric in public preview 

The healthcare data solutions provide data models and transformation activities that help customers create a multi modal warehouse. It enables customers to align with industry standards, such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIRs) and Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine (DICOM), and supports compliance with regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Learn more about healthcare data solutions.

Empowering AI globally with investments in Japan and United Arab Emirates, a new AI Hub in London, and a global partnership with Cognizant 

Microsoft will invest USD2.9 billion over the next two years to increase our hyperscale cloud computing and AI infrastructure in Japan. We will also expand our digital skilling programs, open our first Microsoft Research Asia lab in Japan, and deepen our cybersecurity collaboration with the Government of Japan. 

We are investing USD1.5 billion in Abu Dhabi’s G42 to accelerate AI development and global expansion, and to strengthen our collaboration on bringing the latest Microsoft AI technologies and skilling initiatives to the United Arab Emirates and other countries around the world. 

Microsoft AI Chief Executive Officer Mustafa Suleyman announced Microsoft AI is opening a new AI hub in the heart of London. Microsoft AI London will drive pioneering work to advance state-of-the-art language models and their supporting infrastructure, and to create world-class tooling for foundation models, collaborating closely with our AI teams across Microsoft and with our partners, including OpenAI. 

Cognizant and Microsoft are expanding our partnership to integrate Microsoft’s generative AI and Microsoft Copilot into Cognizant’s digital transformation services. With a significant investment in generative AI, the partnership is set to drive AI adoption and create industry-specific solutions, while upholding ethical AI standards. The initiative also includes extensive training for Cognizant developers and the deployment of Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365 to a vast user base.  

Learn something new 

Microsoft Learn helps address the AI skills gap 

With more than 6 million people globally engaged with AI learning, Microsoft Learn is your AI skill-building partner in addressing the AI skills gap. We designed a simple framework to help you chart your own course for building the necessary AI skills to realize the value of the Microsoft platform. Learn more with the “Accelerate AI transformation with skill building” position paper. For more, see the blog from Kim Akers, Corporate Vice President, Enablement and Operations for Microsoft Customer and Partner Solutions, on how to transform your business with AI skill building on Microsoft Learn

How to customize your generative AI model 

There are three key techniques to customizing a LLM: prompt engineering, RAG, and fine-tuning. In this blog, you will learn how to:  

  • Optimize prompts to ensure a model produces more accurate responses.  
  • Retrieve information from external sources for better accuracy. 
  • Teach a model new skills and tasks. 
  • Teach a model new information from a custom dataset. 

LLMOps Maturity Model Assessment and framework, plus new instructional video series 

LLMOps describes the operational practices and strategies for managing LLMs in production. Not sure what your organization’s LLMOps maturity level is? Take a 10-minute assessment to find out. Then get guidance on how to advance your capabilities in LLMOps based on your organization’s maturity level.  

There are a lot of intricacies involved in building systems that use LLMs: selecting just the right models, orchestrating LLM flows, and monitoring them using responsible AI toolchains. LLMOps is more than technology or product adoption. It’s a confluence of the people engaged, the processes used, and the products implemented. In a new instructional video series, we will explore the concept of LLMOps in depth, alongside introducing the latest Azure AI tools designed to facilitate the adoption of robust LLMOps practices for enterprises. 

New blog: Improving Azure Functions cold starts 

Our new blog, “How to Conquer Cold Starts for Better Performance” is now live on The New Stack, the platform for the latest news and resources for cloud native technologies. Skill-up for free on leveraging AI with cloud-native and serverless technologies on Azure.

Insights Tomorrow: A podcast for data enthusiasts 

Insights Tomorrow features in-depth conversations with data leaders and experts about the revolutionary journeys they’re taking in the world of data, analytics, and governance. Join host Patrick LeBlanc to explore how unlocking value from data is trailblazing the way to digital transformation. 

Customers innovating with generative AI  

MultiChoice boosts user satisfaction with Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft Azure Databricks 

Have you ever wished for a viewing experience that knows your taste better than you do? MultiChoice, Africa’s premier entertainment destination, has made that a reality with Azure Machine Learning. Users enjoy highly personalized recommendations that cater to their tastes, making every view count. As MultiChoice is making the viewing experience better, smarter, and more enjoyable, it has seen a remarkable uptake in user engagement and satisfaction. 

Nexi uses Microsoft Azure App Service to modernize its FinTech apps to provide a personalized payment solution to customers 

Nexi is a European PayTech company that helps its customers pay and accept digital payments through a complete and personalized range of simple, intuitive, and secure solutions. To simplify transactions and empower people and businesses to enjoy closer relationships and prosper together, Nexi needed a unified solution with more flexibility to allow its developers to spend much less time on infrastructure activities and provide more value on delivering products. Working with Microsoft and cVation, Nexi moved forward to implement app modernization and transformation

Coles accelerates from monthly to weekly application deployments with Azure 

Coles, which operates more than 800 stores in Australia, needed to modernize its technology to meet growing customer demand for an omnichannel experience that served them equally well in store and online. In the highly competitive grocery business, that means rapidly evolving in response to customer input. Coles gained amazing efficiency with Azure DevOps, shifting from monthly to weekly deployments, reducing build times, and enabling rapid deployment of changes to production. The customer experience is further optimized with Azure Cosmos DB, which provides an aggregated view across channels to enable further customer insights, allowing Coles to provide an even more customized experience. 

Opportunities to connect 

Build multimodal apps with Microsoft and win at Microsoft Generative AI Hackathon—now through May 6, 2024

Do you want to learn how to use Azure AI and GitHub Copilot to build multimodal apps that combine text, image, video, or voice inputs and outputs for a big impact? Do you want to win cash prizes, Azure credits, and recognition for your work? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should join us for the Microsoft Generative AI Hackathon, an online challenge where you can use your skills to create exciting generative AI solutions. 

Microsoft Build—May 21 to 23, 2024 

Develop the AI skills needed for tomorrow, today. At Microsoft Build 2024, you will learn from in-demand experts, experience the latest innovations in breakouts, and make connections with a community that can help you achieve more. Register for Build

Microsoft Developers AI Learning Hackathon, win up to $10,000 in prizes! Now through June 17, 2024

This hackathon challenges you to push the boundaries of what’s possible by building your very own AI app using Azure Cosmos DB for MongoDB. Targeting both Node.js and Python developers, the hackathon guides you through comprehensive learning to delve into the fundamentals of AI apps— and you might win up to $10,000 in prizes. By the end of the hackathon, you will know how to build your very own custom AI copilot with Azure Cosmos DB for MongoDB. Get started now

Azure Cosmos DB Conf 2024 available on-demand 

Missed the excitement and innovation-packed Azure Cosmos DB Conference in April? No worries, we’ve got you covered! The event brought together the sharpest minds in the industry, including product leaders, chief technical officers, and community members who shared insights on building groundbreaking generative AI applications powered by Azure Cosmos DB. Whether you missed a little or missed it all, catch the replays on-demand

Microsoft’s AI Classroom Hackathon winners 

Microsoft’s AI Classroom Hackathon winners were chosen from more than 3,700 students from over 100 countries, participating in Microsoft’s call to build the next generation of intelligent applications that reimagine the future of education using Azure AI and Azure databases. Among the winners is Dialogues Through Time, that allows you to have interactive AI-driven dialogues with historical figures like Socrates and Leonardo DaVinci. Also, EquEdu, an AI-powered content accessibility tool that makes online educational content accessible for the visually impaired. Lots of inspirational ideas here—check out the winners and their projects. 

What’s new?  

Jessica shares insights on technology transformation along with important updates and resources about the data, AI, and digital application solutions that make Microsoft Azure the platform for the era of AI. Find Jessica’s blog posts here and be sure to follow Jessica on LinkedIn