Nadella's Ignite Talk Highlights Copilot AI, Cloud Systems and Microsoft Fabric
Satya Nadella, Microsoft's chairman and CEO, announced, "We are the Copilot company," during Wednesday's Ignite keynote.
However, it took a while to say it. The talk first focused on Microsoft as a systems company delivering cloud services, even as artificial intelligence (AI) solutions come into being. It also emphasized the data services needed to support AI, identified as Microsoft Fabric.
Near the end of the talk, Nadella described Microsoft's Copilot vision.
Copilot for Everyone and Everything
Copilot AI will be omnipresent for users, Nadella suggested:
We are the Copilot company. We believe in a future where there will be a Copilot for everyone and everything you do. Microsoft Copilot is that one experience that runs across all our surfaces, understanding your context on the Web, on your device. And when you're at work, bringing the right skills to you when you need them. Just like, say today you boot up an operating system to access applications or a browser to navigate to a Web site, you can invoke a Copilot to do all these activities, and more -- to shop, to call, to analyze, to learn, to create. We want the compiler to be everywhere you are.
The shift will start with Copilot search on Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Safari browsers, Nadella indicated, as well as mobile apps (to come). Organizations will have "commercial data protection" using Copilot, which will be "available at no additional cost to all eligible Entra ID users," Nadella said.
Microsoft announced this week that "Bing Chat" and "Bing Chat Enterprise" are now just called "Copilot." Copilot will be available (at "general availability" on Dec. 1) at no extra cost for most Microsoft 365 E3, E5 and F3 subscribers.
Nadella suggested that Copilot will become Microsoft's "new UI" for accessing knowledge, adding that "we're introducing 100 new updates across every layer of the stack to help us realize that vision." He also referred to Microsoft as having an "end-to-end Copilot stack for every organization" that will provide "the infrastructure, the foundation models, data tool chains, and of course the Copilot itself."
Microsoft Fabric for AI
Microsoft Fabric is a software as service offering with access to seven core data workloads. It reached the general availability commercial-release stage during Ignite week. Microsoft Fabric components also work with Copilots, which Microsoft plans to release at the preview stage to some subscribers "by the end of March 2024." Microsoft also announced a Fabric integration effort with Microsoft Purview, its data governance solution.
Nadella suggested that Microsoft Fabric is a key element in enabling AI.
It's perhaps one of the most important considerations because in some sense, there is no AI without data. Microsoft Fabric brings all your data as well as your analytic workloads into this one unified experience. Our Fabric has been our biggest data launch, perhaps since SQL Server, and the reception to the preview has been just incredible -- 25,000 customers are already using it.
Nadella also highlighted Microsoft Fabric's "Mirroring" capability, which he described as "a frictionless way to add existing cloud or data warehouses, as well as databases, to Fabric from Cosmos DB or Azure SQL DB, as well as Mongo and Snowflake -- not only on our cloud, but any cloud to Fabric."
For more on how Mirroring serves as a kind of "holy grail" for business analytics, please see this Redmond article on the topic by Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Joey D'Antoni.
Microsoft as a Systems Company
Much of Nadella's talk was about Microsoft's prep work for its cloud and AI vision, namely its efforts as a systems company. This theme kind of eclipsed the usual Azure cloud service provider emphasis, where Azure gets branded as "the world's computer."
This time, Nadella focused on Microsoft's cloud systems and its enablement with partners.
Being the world's computer means that we need to be even the world's best systems company across heterogeneous infrastructure. We work closely with our partners across the industry to incorporate the best innovation -- from power to the data center, to the rack, to the network, to the core compute, as well as the AI accelerators. And in this new age of AI, we are redefining everything across the fleet in the datacenter.
Nadella noted that Microsoft recently built its own silicon solutions for Azure, namely Azure Cobalt, described as "the first CPU designed by us specifically for the Microsoft Cloud." The Arm-based Cobalt chip currently powers Microsoft Teams, Azure Communications Services and Azure SQL, and it'll be available to customers "next year," Nadella said. It wasn't clear if he meant services or the chip itself would be available.
Microsoft also created an AI accelerator chip called Azure Maia. Nadella showed off the physical rack using Maia, with its "Sidekick" closed-loop liquid cooling tubes. Maia is being tested now but Microsoft is planning to "roll out Maia accelerators across our fleet supporting our own workloads first and we'll scale it to third-party workloads after." For more on Microsoft's new chips to support AI, please see this Redmond article.
The keynote was kind of Microsoft lovefest for its partner chipmakers, such as AMD, Intel and Nvidia. Sharing the stage with Nadella was Nvidia Founder, President and CEO Jensen Huang, who touted Copilot as improving productivity at Nvidia. Huang also noted that Microsoft and Nvidia built the world's "fastest AI supercomputer" together in "just a few months." He also praised collaborative work that allowed Nvidia's native stack to be hosted on Azure, allowing Nvidia developers to access Azure APIs and services.
Media reports (here and here) had suggested that Microsoft was undercutting GPU providers, like Nvidia, by building its own chips for AI, or by working with AMD on a chip, but no such tension seemed apparent on stage.
Microsoft also is previewing a confidential computing GPU for virtual machines for running "AI models on sensitive datasets on our cloud." This GPU was codesigned with Nvidia. Nadella also said that "AMD's flagship MI300X AI accelerator is coming to Azure to give us even more choice for AI-optimized VMs."
Nadella mentioned that Microsoft's hollow-core fiber technology "is delivering a 47 percent improvement in speed because photons are able to travel through these microscopic air capillaries instead of through solid glass fiber." It's an apparent reference to Microsoft's acquisition of Lumenisity, announced almost a year ago.
Nadella also pointed out that Azure Boost reached general availability this week. It improves remote storage throughput using specialized hardware and software. Nadella said that Azure Boost "enables massive improvements in networking, remote storage and local storage throughput, making Azure the best cloud for high-performance workloads while strengthening security as well."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.