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Microsoft unveils preset services for AI and Blockchain

The company also unveiled IoT, mixed reality and edge computing tools for developers

Microsoft Azure splash screen on a smartphone

Microsoft has announced a slew of developer technologies and services for Azure ahead of next week's Build conference in Seattle.

The company will roll out preset services for AI, IoT, mixed reality and blockchain with the aim of putting advanced capabilities into the hands of developers.

"It's an incredible time to be a developer," said Scott Guthrie, executive VP at Microsoft's cloud and AI group. "From building AI and mixed reality into apps to leveraging blockchain for solving commercial business problems, developers skillsets and impact are growing rapidly."

"Today we're delivering innovative Azure services for developers to build the next generation of apps. With 95% of Fortune 500 customers running on Azure, these innovations can have a far-reaching impact."

The Azure services start with a set of AI technology packages aimed to help developers and data scientists apply AI to any workload. There's a new service being launched for Azure Cognitive Services called "decision". It delivers users a specific recommendation for more informed and efficient decision-making.

This category includes Content Moderator, the recently announced anomaly detector, and a new service called "Personaliser", which uses reinforcement learning to provide users with a specific recommendation to enable quick and informed decision-making.

AI is also being added to Azure Search with the general availability of the cognitive search capability. Microsoft said this will enable customers to apply Cognitive Services algorithms to extract new insights from their structured and unstructured content. On top of this, there is a new capability to store AI insights gained from cognitive search to make it easier to create visualisation or machine learning models.

Machine learning services have also been tweaked with an Azure DevOps integration, automated advancements and a visual machine learning interface that provides a "no-code" model creation and deployment service with drag-and-drop capabilities.

Last year Microsoft announced Azure Blockchain Workbench, which is a UI for developers to create blockchain application on a preconfigured Azure-supported network. Adding to that, the company is launching Azure Blockchain Service which is a fully managed consortium network that offers built-in governance for common management tasks, such as adding new members, setting permissions and authenticating user applications. This follows the announcement that JP Morgan's Ethereum platform, Quorum, will be the first ledger available in Azure Blockchain Service.

While it sounds great, there's also a touch of dj vu about it; in April, Google announced very similar preset AI services for developers, which itself, followed Amazon Web Services launching similar at AWS Re:invent in November. AWS also announced blockchain services back in November.

While Microsoft is still far behind AWS, the biggest cloud company around, it is one of the fastest growing cloud providers; recently the company reached the $1 trillion mark thanks in part to its cloud growth.

Looking to further that growth the company also announced services to address emerging markets such as hybrid cloud and edge computing. These include an Azure SQL Database Edge, which is an engine optimised for lower compute requirements with built-in AI. There was also IoT Plug and Play, a service to connect IoT device to the cloud to deploy them at scale.

For mixed-reality development, the company is making it easier to create for HoloLens 2 with a HoloLens 2 Developer bundle, which provides the community of mixed- reality developers with access to tools to help them build and run mixed-reality experiences across a range of devices.

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