Microsoft debuts Azure Orbital at Ignite 2020

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Satellites-as-a-service was among the long list of product offerings Microsoft debuted during its Ignite 2020 virtual event, which started yesterday.

CEO Satya Nadella, who gave the keynote address, revealed Azure Orbital, a fully-managed ground station-as-a-service, which lets customers communicate with and control satellites, process data and scale operations directly in Azure.

“We’re taking our infrastructure to space to enable anyone to access satellite data and capabilities from Azure,” he said.

Throwing the gauntlet to partners and customers to develop use cases leveraging the platform, the potential to better observe weather conditions and use artificial intelligence to help predict major natural disasters and provide timely warnings, was one highlighted example.

The major focus of the keynote address, however, was building digital resilience through ‘tech intensity’.

With much of the world having experienced lockdowns this year, Nadella said the IT community has played a significant role in keeping the world running and sped up deployments. The case for digital transformation has never been more important, he noted.

“Tech intensity is about tech adoption and integration, how organisations build their own unique capability and build trust (in tech and in their business models). Tech intensity is key to business resilience and digital transformation.”

Highlights of the product launches included Azure Communication Services, which allows developers to tap communication APIs from the same infrastructure that powers Teams. This allows the addition of voice and video calling, chat, SMS and telephony capabilities into their own applications.

Teams was a major focus and is being positioned as the new centre of the employee productivity experience. Upgrades that were announced included new video meeting experiences, such as Together Mode, which removes the grid mode users have become accustomed to on group video calls, and drops all participants into a single view background, such as an auditorium or meeting room.

Nadella said research has been conducted which shows this new look helps to reduce online meeting fatigue and improve focus. The capability to break large meetings into smaller groups, which can then re-join the larger meeting, is also being added.

Teams has also received more attention in allowing more Office apps to work within it, as well as Power BI to make it easier to discover data from across the organisation and collaborate on those insights within Teams. Dynamic view in Teams also enables users to move elements of the screen to how they prefer. And live captions and transcriptions of what was said, and by whom, improve accessibility.

“The culture of work is changing. The last several months have been the largest at-scale experiment we’ve seen for remote work,” said Nadella.

Focus has also been paid to integrating a new learning app into Teams, which is set to rollout later in the year. It enables content from LinkedIn learning to be integrated, and encourages learning as part of a natural flow of work, he added.

Nadella also highlighted employee wellbeing as a major issue, saying 30% of remote workers surveyed during the pandemic had increased their feeling of burnout at work.

“Productivity just can’t be about short-term employee output. In a world where you can easily feel isolated, employers need to equip employees with the tools to rebuild social capital to focus and stay healthy.”

Integration into Teams of apps like Headspace has been added to “enable workers to easily tap into the dedicated moments of mindfulness to make the most of their breaks”.

Other products to be launched include Azure SQL Edge, an SQL database for IOT and IOT Edge deployments; Azure API Management for Pro Apps in Teams, which gives professional developers new options to develop applications inside Teams; Azure Bot Framework Extensibility, to power agents to bridge the gap between low code and pro code bot development; closer alignment of Power Platform and GitHub to enable professional and citizen developers to more easily build apps together; and the Edge browser will be made available to work on Linux from October.

“We’ve seen years of digital transformation in mere months. We know broad economic growth is dependent on tech intensity and can apply to every sector in every economy,” Nadella said.

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