Microsoft will be making public in July a preview of its Azure Machine Learning cloud service, which allows data scientists and developers to build predictive analytics solutions.
Azure Machine Learning, which has been in private preview for about a year, allows users to build services, using Microsoft’s tools, that use “machine learning” — the ability to train computers to learn from historical and other data — to make predictive analyses.
Azure ML “will bring together the capabilities of new analytics tools, powerful algorithms developed for Microsoft products like Xbox and Bing, and years of machine learning experience into one simple and easy-to-use cloud service,” Joseph Sirosh, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of machine learning, said in a blog post. “For customers, this means virtually none of the startup costs associated with authoring, developing and scaling machine learning solutions.”
Azure ML was in development under Satya Nadella’s watch back when he was head of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise division. Since ascending to the CEO position in February, Nadella has repeatedly emphasized the importance of being able to convert the huge volume of data being generated these days into “fuel for ambient intelligence.”
“He’s obviously very passionate about it. It’s a key part of his technology strategy,” said Eron Kelly, Microsoft’s general manager of the data platform group. “As CEO, he’s made it clear to the broader company the importance of this, as one of the things we need to put an emphasis on. He’s personally very engaged in it.”
Kelly said the growth in the volume of data being generated these days — too much for human beings to single-handedly analyze — along with a forecasted growth for the predictive analytics business and a predicted decline in the number of data scientists, creates a need for services such as Azure ML.
“Machine learning allows you to shift from analyzing past behavior to anticipating the future,” Kelly said. “We’re excited about this service because it’s a key component in our overall data strategy.”
Microsoft itself is already using Azure ML in its retail stores for fraud detection. Carnegie Mellon University is also using it to try to reduce energy consumption. The university is combining historic energy usage patterns — such as for air conditioning, feedback from employees for whether rooms have felt too warm or too cold, and weather forecasts — to set proper energy usage for each day.
The company decided to make its preview public “to start building momentum in the market for our partner community,” Kelly said.
Microsoft does not yet have a date of general availability for Azure ML. “It will be generally available when our customers tell us it’s ready,” Kelly said.