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Microsoft Build shows Azure's path for big data, open source

Microsoft Build's agenda shows the company wants every developer under its big tent, yet has a strong focus on open source and big data analytics.

SEATTLE -- The services and product updates divulged at the Microsoft Build developer conference here this week focus on top priorities for IT customers, such as big data analytics and open source software.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella kicked off the show with highlights of the company's latest cloud and data capabilities, from integrations across popular Microsoft services such as Office 365 and Windows 10 to deeper embrace of Kubernetes container technology. His product-dense keynote aimed to encapsulate Microsoft's efforts to embrace a customer base with increasingly diverse needs.

"It's fantastic to see the entirety of the stack come to life," Nadella said. "The ability for a developer to take on the full stack at whatever layer makes sense for you? That's the vision we believe in going forward."

"It looks like end-to-end, there's a very holistic approach," agreed Esayas Bekele, software architect at C.H. Robinson, a large logistics provider based in Eden Prairie, Minn. A Microsoft developer for 10 years focused on ASP.NET apps, he has worked with Graph for some time and is interested in using newer Azure services such as CosmosDB.

For other Microsoft shops, advancements showcased in Nadella's Microsoft Build keynote such as team collaboration and advanced chatbots geared toward richer user experiences, are more sizzle than steak right now.

"We don't use Azure too much. We don't have a big enough programming pool," said Tim Morris, senior programmer analyst at University of Redlands, a small private university in Redland, Calif. "I'm focused on developing an intuitive interface. If we're going to throw in a chatbot or something later, that's just a nice-to-have, which I never have time to do."

Graph data connect stitches apps, data

On the big data front, Microsoft Graph data connect is now generally available. This service connects customer internal business data with information pulled together by Graph from sources such as Office 365, Windows and Outlook.

Those applications represent a significant amount of user data. Office 365 has 135 million commercial subscribers; 800 million devices run Windows 10; and there are 400 million active users, according to Microsoft.

Graph uses machine learning to map relationships between user identities, content and user behavior. It also provides APIs for developers to build applications, such as an app that crunches calendar information for multiple employees and suggests the best time to schedule a meeting.

With Graph data connect, an enterprise can pull Microsoft application data into Azure Data Lake or Azure Blob Storage, and then use services such as Azure Data Lake Analytics or various Azure databases to manipulate, analyze and embed data into other applications. Microsoft offers Graph data connect to both enterprise IT shops and independent software vendors.

Graph data connect moves large Graph data sets into Azure in an automated, secure fashion for more advanced scenarios than API access can provide, Microsoft said.

Microsoft's open source embrace deepens

[Microsoft Build] is all about trying to understand the full Microsoft platform. The IDE competition is dead.
Holger MuellerAnalyst at Constellation Research

Microsoft also has collaborated with Red Hat on source software, called Kubernetes-based event-driven autoscaling (KEDA), which uses Azure Functions as a programming model. It scales up Kubernetes infrastructure as needed, such as when a retailer has a huge spike in online orders, and it automatically shrinks the infrastructure back down after demand recedes, the company said.

Microsoft also is integrating Azure Kubernetes Service and Azure Policy, which provides management and security measures for workloads on Azure. Now in preview is an Azure Policy feature that restricts access to Kubernetes control planes according to specific IP addresses and ranges.

Microsoft's $7.5 billion acquisition of GitHub last year raised eyebrows among some adherents of the wildly popular open source software repository. Microsoft plunked down those billions to gain closer access to GitHub's millions of users and ultimately integrate the platform with its own proprietary products.

A key step in this direction is a new tie-up between GitHub Enterprise and Azure Active Directory. GitHub users can also sign into Azure with their existing GitHub credentials.

Microsoft broadens appeal to developers

There are more than 100 product and service updates slated for Microsoft Build this week, although no one single item stands out as a blockbuster. That's a good thing for Microsoft shops in today's competitive environment, said Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research.

"No big news is good news," he said. "Everything is getting pushed forward."

Plenty of Microsoft Build sessions this year focus on fundamental issues for Microsoft developers, such as the .NET framework and Visual Studio integrated development environment. But those discussions won't get as much play on the keynote stage, and there's a reason for that, Mueller said.

"[Microsoft Build] is all about trying to understand the full Microsoft platform," he said. "The IDE competition is dead."

This story was updated to reflect information and reactions from Tuesday's keynote.

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