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What’s new in Azure Data, AI, and Digital Applications: Helping you navigate the fast pace of change

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Our job at Microsoft is to help you understand how the AI era can benefit your organization and trust the AI solutions you deploy are done so safely and responsibly. On that note, here’s a look at some of the innovations and updates we’ve announced recently. 

I’ve met with customers and partners from around the world over the past few months and almost every one of them mentioned the same thing: how fast AI innovation is happening—much faster than the pace of change many are used to. While most see the transformative potential AI poses for their organization, many feel the technology isn’t sitting still long enough for them to fully understand what it means for them before something new is announced. The number of new items I share each month in this blog series is a great example of this ongoing change. 

I don’t expect the pace to slow down. We’re at a moment of generational change and are rapidly building and scaling the tools and infrastructure to empower the new AI era. This is potentially as big as the electrification of industry and households, which took decades. Nothing that big has ever happened as quickly as generative AI has captured the attention and interest of businesses and individuals alike. 

Azure AI Platform

Reimagine your business with generative AI

The good news is we at Microsoft can help you determine how rapidly evolving technology can best support your strategic objectives. 

We’re proud to be a trusted partner for thousands of organizations already embracing generative AI to transform their business. Customers like SymphonyAI, whose Sensa Copilot uses Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service to identify potential financial crimes, helping investigators complete cases 60-70% faster with 70% less human effort. And KPMG, who harnessed the capabilities of vector searching across their operational databases and saw a 41% increase in search and response quality of a critical AI assistant used by their workforce. 

These are just two brief stories of how generative AI-powered assistants, or copilots, are driving efficiency and innovation across industries. They are also great examples of how no two organizations are alike, and neither are the apps, data, and workflows that drive your business.  

While the pace can feel relentless, many businesses are eager to make this year about moving from possibility to production with AI transformation. Our job at Microsoft is to help you understand how the AI era can benefit your organization and trust the AI solutions you deploy are done so safely and responsibly. On that note, here’s a look at some of the innovations and updates we’ve announced recently. 

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

Build, buy, or both?  

There are many different options for organizations to take advantage of this new wave of AI solutions, and the pathways are by no means mutually exclusive. Microsoft Copilot can help boost employee productivity—it’s like providing every employee with a personal assistant—but you may also need customized solutions for your business. Our out-of-the box copilots are easily customized with the low-code Microsoft Copilot Studio, and with Microsoft Azure AI Studio, we provide a pro-code generative AI environment for developing intelligent applications from end-to-end, including custom copilots. See my blog post on how to determine if you should take the build, buy, or both approach for more. 

The Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform—Unleash your data and accelerate your transformation  

With the emergence of generative AI, the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform has evolved into what I regard now as our strongest, simplest recommendation for a collection of deeply integrated solutions capable of solving data fragmentation problems of the past and present, and stands ready to empower uncapped innovation for even the most ambitious organizations. Read my blog post on the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform to learn more.  

New capabilities for Microsoft Fabric 

Thousands gathered at the Microsoft Fabric Community Conference last week to hear the latest updates from experts and get hands-on with everything Fabric has to offer, from data warehousing to data movement to AI, real-time analytics, and business intelligence. See the blog post from Arun Ulag for a run down on everything we announced last week, from transformed continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) and dataflows and data pipelines experiences, to new security and governance features, and more. 

New Microsoft Azure AI tools help you build more secure and trustworthy generative AI apps 

We’re introducing new tools, like Prompt Shields to detect and block prompt injection attacks, and Groundedness detection to detect and block “hallucinations” in model outputs, along with other responsible AI capabilities to help prevent, evaluate, and monitor AI risks and attacks. Learn more in the blog post from Sarah Bird, Chief Product Officer of Responsible AI

Cohere’s Command R+ now available first on Azure AI 

We’re pleased to announce a new collaboration between Cohere and Microsoft to integrate Cohere’s latest LLM, Command R+, into the Azure AI model catalog as part of our Models as a Service (MaaS) offering. This latest addition furthers our commitment to enriching the toolkit available to Azure AI users, empowering them to create advanced, user-centric generative AI applications that prioritize security, compliance, adaptability, and scalability. 

Azure AI for accessibility 

Our annual Ability Summit in March focused on how AI is fueling accessibility innovation. (Check it out on demand. Great stuff!) Leading up to the event, we shared two blog posts highlighting specific AI apps that turn obstacles into stepping stones. In “6 ways generative AI helps improve accessibility for all with Azure”, we see how AI ignites the spark of inclusion in six apps that are a testament to innovation, breaking down barriers and redefining possibilities for people with disabilities. And in “Paralympian Lex Gillette’s top 7 AI tools for accessibility”, we get a personal look at how AI-powered assistive technology helps Paralympian Champion long jumper Lex Gillette thrive on and off the field. 

OpenAI Whisper on Azure AI now generally available 

OpenAI Whisper is a speech-to-text model from OpenAI that developers can use to transcribe audio files. Developers can now use the generally available Whisper API in both Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service as well as Microsoft Azure AI Speech services on production workloads, knowing that it is backed by the Microsoft Azure enterprise-readiness promise. With all our speech-to-text models generally available, customers have greater choice and flexibility to enable AI-powered transcription and other speech scenarios. 

AI in action: 5 real-world intelligent apps you can build on Azure 

We dive into 5 types of AI-powered apps our customers are building with Azure generative AI technology, cloud-scale data, and modern application platforms. Check out how Mercedes-Benz built their connected car platform by first modernizing then adding AI capabilities, or how KPMG created KymChat, a highly-secure AI assistant with a conversational interface to help employees surface insights from unstructured data. Check out sample architectures and solution accelerators to help you build similar apps quickly and easily. 

Azure AI Speech launches new zero-shot text-to-speech (TTS) models for Personal Voice 

Azure AI Speech service has upgraded its Personal Voice feature with new zero-shot TTS models. Compared to the initial model, these new models improve the authenticity of synthesized voices and better resemble the speech characteristics of the voice in the prompt. Learn more about the models and apply for access

Database watcher for Microsoft Azure SQL public preview 

Enable in-depth, managed monitoring of Azure SQL databases, elastic pools, and managed instances, and view detailed database performance and health data in near real time, visualized on a single-pane-of-glass dashboard in the Azure portal. Explore detailed performance and configuration data to detect, investigate, and troubleshoot a wide variety of database performance and health problems.

Huge performance gains in Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Flexible Server   

It’s time to take advantage of the faster architecture and stronger value of Microsoft Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Flexible Server. A new benchmark study by Principled Technologies compares the performance and cost of Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Flexible Server to Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Single Server (slated for retirement March 28, 2025). Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Flexible Server offers up to 4.71 times faster performance and up to 3.88 times better performance per dollar. To learn more about Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Single Server to Flexible Server, read the full report.

Realize better value and performance in Azure Database for MySQL – Flexible Server 

A new benchmark study by Principled Technologies compares the performance and cost of Azure Database for MySQL – Flexible Server to Azure Database for MySQL – Single Server (slated for retirement September 16, 2024). The results show Azure Database for MySQL – Flexible Server offers up to 117% better performance and up to 266% better performance per dollar. Customers can quickly and easily migrate to Flexible Server using Azure Database for MySQL Import. To learn more about Azure Database for MySQL – Flexible Server, read the full report.  

Microsoft Defender for Azure Database for PostgreSQL generally available 

Microsoft Defender for Cloud is now generally available for Azure Database for PostgreSQL – Flexible Server. It detects anomalous activities indicating unusual and potentially harmful attempts to access or exploit databases. When deployed, it provides an additional important security barrier to your Azure Database for PostgreSQL server beyond the built-in security features. Learn more about Defender for Cloud.

Public preview of Azure SQL Managed Instance Next-gen General Purpose (GP)

Azure SQL Managed Instance next-gen General Purpose is now in public preview, making migration and modernization faster and easier than ever for more customer scenarios. In addition, moving from Azure VMs to SQL Managed Instance gives the customer a better Azure experience with a fully managed database that’s always up-to-date and an availability SLA of up to 99.99%. Maximize your SQL workload efficiently with higher performance, flexible compute, and storage options. With 2x IOPS,5x database capacity, and 32TB storage, scale up to 128 vCores and manage your unique workload demands. Learn more about Azure SQL Managed Instance Next-gen GP

Learn something new 

Build intelligent apps with Microsoft Azure Kubernetes Service (AKS)

A new four-part, hands-on learning series: Building Intelligent Apps with AKS, is available on-demand. In this series, developers explore how to build enterprise-grade solutions by deconstructing open-source reference samples step-by-step. Episodes include how to leverage Azure OpenAI Service with AKS, using AKS to run your own AI models with KAITO, use OpenCost, Prometheus, and Grafana for intelligent apps, and how to use AKS and Azure to take your intelligent app global. Plus, there is a bonus “Ask the Expert” session with the AKS product team.  

New Microsoft Mechanics video: “What is the database behind ChatGPT?” 

Find out why OpenAI chose Microsoft Azure Cosmos DB as the database behind ChatGPT in this episode of Microsoft Mechanics. General Manager for the Azure Cosmos DB team Kirill Gavrylyuk shows how to take advantage of Azure Cosmos DB for AI-driven applications and how to seamlessly integrate with large language models like ChatGPT. Discover how to achieve real-time operational efficiency at any scale. 

Large language model operations (LLMOps) skilling workshop available for anyone on GitHub 

Organizations eager to fully leverage generative AI recognize the critical step of transitioning from prototyping to production. Orchestrating LLM workflows, evaluating prompt variations, managing version control for prompt assets, and ensuring the continuous quality and safety of generative AI applications can present challenges. Microsoft created the LLMOps workshop to address these challenges and help any organization operationalize their LLM-powered applications with Azure AI. 

Customers innovating with generative AI 

IWill Therapy and CARE Azure AI-powered bot provides access to cognitive behavioral therapy 

IWill Therapy and IWill CARE, a leading online mental health care provider in India, needed to reach more clients. It created a Hindi-speaking chatbot named IWill GITA using the cutting-edge products and services included in the unified Azure AI Studio platform, incorporating the latest LLMs in Azure OpenAI Service and integrated Azure AI Content Safety filters. IWill‘s scalable, AI-powered bot helps expand access to cognitive behavioral therapy throughout India. Learn more about building with customizable APIs and models on Azure AI.

Schneider Electric fast-tracks innovation with Azure OpenAI Service 

Schneider Electric, a leader in energy management and industrial automation, is innovating with Azure OpenAI Service to enhance sustainability and efficiency and address complex global issues like carbon emissions. Schneider’s commitment to AI is evident in their creation of a Chief AI Officer role and their collaboration with Microsoft’s Industry Solutions Engineering. Schneider’s EcoStruxure platform, powered by Microsoft Azure IoT, optimizes energy usage and drives strategic decisions. Schneider’s vision is to integrate AI more deeply into their products, enabling smarter, more sustainable energy solutions worldwide. Learn more about our Azure OpenAI Service.

Albert Heijn uses Azure OpenAI in its effort to reduce food waste 

Albert Heijn (AH), the Netherlands’ leading supermarket chain, collaborated with Microsoft to develop a recipe scan feature that allows users to conveniently add all the ingredients from a cookbook recipe to the shopping cart in the AH app, making healthy cooking more accessible. There is ongoing work aimed at helping users find recipes based on leftover ingredients, contributing to the effort to reduce food waste. As well, Dynamic Markdown automatically reduces prices of products that are approaching expiration throughout the day within stores. Learn more about our Azure OpenAI Service.

Opportunities to connect 

Join the free virtual Azure Cosmos DB Conf on April 16, 2024 

Go beyond traditional analysis and leverage AI-powered tools to build smarter, more scalable applications. Discover how companies are using Azure Cosmos DB with AI features to gain real-time insights, personalize experiences, and optimize performance. Register now and let AI transform your data strategy! This free virtual developer event offers a dynamic mix of 15-minute sessions showcasing innovative projects from Microsoft and community experts.

Microsoft Build happening May 21-23, 2024 

Register to attend Microsoft Build in person or online and learn before everyone else about every announcement and product update across the Microsoft Intelligent Data Platform and how AI can shape your future. Find solutions, get your questions answered, and have conversations with experts. There will be plenty of opportunities to grow and differentiate your skill set with hands-on demos and breakout sessions. 

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