Harnessing the latest cloud service offering's from Microsoft
Recently PharmiWeb Solutions Technical innovation team headed to Microsoft’s Global Tech Summit. The event focused on Microsoft’s cloud service offerings through Office 365 and Azure, and the latest advancements in Microsoft’s cloud services and integrated tooling.
With an emphasis on Azure and underlined by Scott Guthrie’s ‘Red Shirt Dev Tour’ which includes live demos of a wide cross section of Azure’s features and services, from creating virtual machines to making requests to the image recognition service from bespoke applications.
As a brief introduction, Azure constitutes Microsoft’s cloud platform and it comprises a variety of services which can be accessed via a single web portal. Services include solutions for complete network infrastructure and hosting to Artificial Intelligence. Our key takeaways throughout the event focused on Microsoft’s ‘security first’ model, going serverless and the Azure’s ‘cognitive services’.
It’s a common mis-conception that ‘cloud’ somehow means ‘less secure’. However, it’s an opinion that is fast changing. People are seeing the power of cloud security and events like this one are helping to change perceptions.
Security is taken very seriously at Microsoft, they run a ‘security first’ model right to their core and Azure is no different. All the demos of the Azure ‘Security Centre’ are impressive. It monitors all your assets, collates logs from servers and applications, and uses machine learning to identify problems.
The ‘Security Centre’ gives constant reports showing recommendations, be it closing admin ports, or showing patch releases for software. But beyond that, Microsoft’s artificial intelligence is running in the background to monitor traffic coming into and going out of the environment and can make judgements on whether you’re being hacked. It can immediately black list IPs and send out notifications to the appropriate departments. This is part of the beauty of the cloud – this kind of intelligence is possible because of the way Microsoft can gather data from tens of thousands of hacking attacks across all their Azure clients and as we at PharmiWeb Solutions adopt more of the Azure cloud, this is the kind of collective security will help keep our sites and our client’s sites even safer than before.
As well as providing the means to build out traditional server-based hosting infrastructure, Microsoft’s cloud provides multiple serverless features. This means that hosting a website, for example, is no longer a case of setting up load-balancers and servers. It means that with Azure, clicking ‘new web app’ does all of this in the background in only a few minutes – meaning infrastructure doesn’t need to be a worry. If your web app requires more power to meet demand there’s a handy set of options to upgrade your virtual infrastructure with a single button click, all without any down-time to your site.
The summit included many talks and workshops relating to Azure’s ‘Cognitive Services’ focusing on five key areas; Vision, Speech, Knowledge, Search and Language. The demos indicated how easy it is to do complex tasks, such as language translation or image recognition. The latter being used in one demo, to identify if an image contains a cat or not. It seemed happy to spot cats despite the audience uploading bizarre images to the publicly available demo site. Although a slight confusion did occur when faced with Lion-o from Thunder cats, consigning him to the ‘not a cat’ pile - but no system is perfect.
Sentiment Analysis also made for an impressive demo. Not only can it approximate the emotion from a person’s face, it can also decide if a sentence of text is positive or negative. This was used to show off a simple app which monitored tweets about Azure - sorting the negative ones into a ticketing system for the first line support team to respond to. They claim that struggling users who take to twitter to vent their frustrations can expect a response by tech support within 3 minutes of tweeting.
Of course, there’s more to the Cognitive Services than this, enabling users to train neural networks and analyse big data, but much work has been done to make accessible what was recently only in the hands of the mathematicians.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Technical Innovation Lead
Russell originally studied Software Engineering which involved a healthy mix of development, solutions design and artificial intelligence. He’s since spent over a decade working as a developer and technical architect building systems from mobile apps to websites and most other things in-between. From a childhood spent learning to code and his subsequent education and career, Russell has developed a passion for all areas of technology.