Microsoft is seeking to play a pivotal role in the "re-imagining" of society and business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Satya Nadella said Tuesday during the Build 2020 conference.
The crisis is making cloud technologies more important than ever, which presents massive opportunities in the Microsoft ecosystem including around the Azure cloud platform and the cloud-based Microsoft 365 productivity offering, Nadella said.
Nadella spoke remotely via video with the Build 2020 developer conference taking place as a digital-only event in response to the pandemic.
What follows are the four biggest statements from Nadella's keynote at Build 2020.
The impact of COVID-19
"We've seen how critical digital technology is in the three phases of this crisis--from emergency response, to the recovery phase, to the re-imagining [of] the world going forward. Every organization will increasingly need the ability, at a moment's notice, to remote everything--from manufacturing to sales to customer support," Nadella said.
Organizations "will also need the ability to simulate anything--from how the immune system responds to a virus to how a fault in a wind turbine can impact our power supply. And they will need to be able to automate everywhere, to enable faster, more agile response--from triage in health care to the maintenance in smart buildings to curbside pickup in retail," he said.
"I think that this opportunity is what grounds us in our mission at Microsoft," Nadella said.
Nadella also used his keynote at Build to tout the major differentiators he sees for the Azure cloud platform, which competes with the far larger Amazon Web Services platform as well as with the smaller Google Cloud Platform. Ninety-five percent of Fortune 500 companies are Azure customers, he noted.
"Now more than ever, organizations in every industry are relying on Azure to support their critical workloads from health care triage with AI-assisted bots to digital twins in manufacturing to e-commerce and retail. This infrastructure enables you to remote, simulate and automate any activity. We're building Azure as the world's computer," Nadella said. "We have 61 data center regions, more than any other cloud provider. And we are the only cloud that extends to the edge, with all the flexibility you need from Azure Edge Zones for 5G to Azure Sphere for secure IoT."
Ultimately, "we're innovating at every layer from edge to hybrid to data and AI. We've always led with hybrid computing. Azure Arc is the first control plane built for a multi-cloud, multi-edge world," Nadella said.
Microsoft unveiled a number of updates to Azure in connection with Build 2020, several of which Nadella highlighted during his keynote.
For Azure Arc--which enables deployment of Azure services anywhere and extends Azure management to any infrastructure--Microsoft announced that Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes clusters are now in public preview.
"Today, we're taking [Azure innovation] further with Azure Arc enabled for Kubernetes," Nadella said. "And at the data layer, Azure is the first cloud with limitless data and analytics capabilities, that can deliver a cloud-native data state for every organization. We literally rebuilt and re-imagined the cloud data estate, using the new memory hierarchy of the cloud. And today, you'll see Azure Synapse Link, a new architecture that helps developers do live analytics on real-time transactional data. Bringing Cosmos DB and Synapse together is just, I think, going to be a pattern that we're going to see increasingly."
Azure Synapse Link is a cloud-native implementation of hybrid transactional analytical processing (HTAP) that brings operational database services and Azure Synapse Analytics together in real-time with a single click--without managing data movement or placing a burden on customers’ operational systems, according to Microsoft. The solution is now in public preview.
In terms of Azure AI, "we will also have new capabilities in Azure Machine Learning to better understand the interpretability of models, protect using differential privacy, control and [audit] data as well as models. This is all very critical for building responsible AI," Nadella said.
The new model interpretability and fairness assessment capabilities will enable development of more accurate and fair models, according to the company.
Additionally, Nadella cited progress with what the company calls “the world's first AI supercomputer in the cloud."
"This is something that we started last Build, and we've made tremendous progress--everything from the infrastructure to large-scale, multi-modal models, acting as platforms themselves that other developers can use," he said.
Microsoft 365 updates
Nadella noted that Build 2020 is also seeing updates for the Microsoft 365 platform, which combines Office 365 apps (including Outlook and Teams) with Windows 10, device management and security.
"We are building the world's productivity cloud as a people-centric, multi-device, multi-sense experience," Nadella said. "We have seen tremendous scale and intensity of usage with Microsoft 365. There are over 75 million daily active users of Teams and 1 billion monthly active devices running Windows 10 today."
For the Teams collaboration platform, the number of organizations integrating third-party, line-of-business apps with Teams has tripled in the past two months, he said.
"We're taking this to the next level. With Teams and the Fluid Framework, you can build Teams apps with new collaborative canvas. Collaboration now is first-class in any application you build," Nadella said.
The Fluid Framework--initially used only for building web-based applications--is getting its first integrations with Microsoft 365, Microsoft said. The integrations allow users to collaborate on documents and create "connected components" that can be easily shared across applications, according to the company.
Meanwhile, with Teams and the Power Platform, "you can build and embed powerful apps, bots workflows, dashboards for business processes--with a one-click 'Add to Teams' experience. I think this is going to completely change our frontline users' teams. And with Teams in Visual Studio, professional developers have the ability to now have integrated workflows to build apps and teams," Nadella said.