Microsoft expands Azure Government data services

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Microsoft has added two data services to its Azure Government Cloud platform to expand agency use, the company announced Monday.

Speaking at the Microsoft Tech Summit in Washington,  Julia White, corporate vice president of cloud platform product management, said the Azure-based Power BI Pro and HDInsight — an open source offering — will help expand cloud data analytics to government agencies.

“We want to make sure any government agency can successfully use Microsoft Cloud,” White said.

Microsoft Federal CTO Susie Adams echoed that notion.

“We’re democratizing business intelligence,” Adams said. “We’re taking it up a layer and making it easy for the masses to get access to data.”

The introduction of HDInsight will help government IT specialists bypass additional hardware or hiring for data infrastructure, officials said, and allow government customers access to Spark, HBase, Apache Hadoop and Storm analytic clusters.

Power BI Pro will also be made available to public agencies, which the tech giant said will allow governments to monitor and analyze data and information in real time.

Although Power BI is not new — it was first publicly introduced in 2015 — Adams said that many governments have moved slowly to the service from regular Excel formats because of legacy procedures and longstanding policies.

With a new administration, the federal budget could become even tighter and affect any such transitions, she speculated.

“They [government] are used to running reports the same way,” Adams said, adding that another  challenge of the federal government is the diversity of its workforce. “That’s going to be a cultural shift that’s going to take place.”

To cope with the transforming cloud services, Microsoft hosts both online training and in-person training at technology centers to get customers up to speed on a weekly basis, Adams added.

White said Microsoft is trying to move into a more nimble environment allowing for the sharing of information while maintaining security capabilities. As information overload provides more data than humans can retain, bridging that gap becomes more possible as cloud and machine learning come together, she said.

“This is a step-function change,” White said. “The machines are working for humans instead of the other way around.”

Also included under the Azure Government Cloud will be Microsoft Cognitive Services, which will allow for voice and facial recognition. White said a recent trip to Germany provided her a look at photo imagery and video analysis, and the broad opportunity that lies within cognitive services.

White added that there is substantial innovation around Azure, the collection of cloud services that includes Azure Government, which provides cloud services to the public sector.

Michael Hansen, principal investigator at the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, told summit attendees that the cloud technology allows for the streaming of real-time data while a patient is on the operating table.

“Here we can have an idea on Monday morning and get it up and running by the middle of the week,” Hansen said. “As a scientist, you’re able to move quickly on an idea. You can test hypotheses in real time.”

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Azure, Microsoft, Microsoft Federal, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Windows Azure
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