Vid services and big AI appear in Microsoft's government cloud

Feds rub their hand with glee as new toys arrive

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Azure Government users rejoice! Azure Media Services and Azure Batch AI have made the leap from the public sector to the not-at-all-ominous halls of the US government.

Microsoft was chuffed to announce this week that yet more functionality had been deemed fit to make the move into the highly controlled and regulated world of its Government Cloud.

Microsoft's efforts to persuade Uncle Sam to buy into its cloudy services kicked off in 2014 with a roadmap to achieve the necessary accreditations so that Redmond could take a slice of the cash pie from Amazon. The one-time bookseller had been running its own cloudy government stuff since 2011.

2018 saw Redmond succeed in persuading US intelligence agencies that Azure Government Cloud was ready for more sensitive work, although an unfortunate run-in with employees over a contract with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency took the shine off somewhat.

Azure Media Services

Azure Media Services (AMS) has been around for a while now, originally launched by Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie back in 2013 and then envisaged as a solution for the emerging trend in video on demand. A preview version was used by a number of international broadcasters to stream the London 2012 Olympics.

Readers still feeling bruised after England's World Cup exploits might want to break out their old 2012 Olympics DVD and have a watch of the highlights in order to spend some time in a happier place. (Ed: stop it Richard, please).

The current incarnation of AMS allows users to securely upload, store, encode and package audio or video content for both on-demand and live streaming and, as of this week, government users can get in on the action. Agencies that only use Microsoft’s products for ‘legacy email’ will likely have no interest in such a facility, right?

Amazon, of course, has its own offering in the form of AWS Media Services), which it is equally happy to fling in the direction of government agencies. After all, if it’s good enough for Fox Sports, it should be good enough for the feds.

Big jobs in AI

Government cloud users are also now able to get their hands on Microsoft’s Batch AI functionality, which is geared toward running intensive and iterative AI algorithms on hulkingly large chunks of data. Available to the public since last year, the technology will automatically scale over multiple CPUs or GPUs as needed, allowing developers to focus on their models rather than worrying about fiddling with how the cloud is actually configured.

The feds will be pleased to know that support for Microsoft’s Cognitive Toolkit (obviously), Chainer and Google’s TensorFlow come pre-configured and ready to go. Not that any agency would stray from Microsoft’s tough, ethical line and use the AI for nefarious means. Most likely it’ll be for traffic planning. No, really.

Google itself offers similar functionality in the form of its Cloud Machine Learning Engine, which will also cheerfully scale as needed, and run AI experiments in parallel like its Microsoft equivalent. The ad slinger and search provider has, of course, had its own run-ins with government plans for its AI technology.


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