Let tech help you manage your well-being with these 10 tips | Windows Experience Blog

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a great time to focus on reducing stress and anxiety, especially as we all face challenges working, learning and connecting in new ways. Head over to the Windows Home and Family Resources blog for 10 tech tips to help you juggle all your responsibilities as you take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 19635 | Windows Experience Blog

Hello Windows Insiders, today we’re releasing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 19635 to Windows Insiders in the Fast ring.
You can check out our Windows Insider Program documentation here, including a list of all the new features and updates released in builds so far. Not seeing any of the features in this build? Check your Windows Insider Settings to make sure you’re on the Fast ring. Submit feedback here to let us know if things weren’t working the way you expected.
If you want a complete look at what build is in which Insider ring, head over to Flight Hub. Please note, there will be a slight delay between when a build is flighted and when Flight Hub is updated.

We fixed an issue resulting in the apostrophes in the Location not available dialog, Mount File dialog, and File Explorer folder options text not being displayed correctly.
We fixed an issue where the Work or School account > Allow Windows Search to provide… toggle under Search Settings could be unexpectedly disabled.
We fixed an issue resulting in cellular data not working on certain devices.
We fixed an issue that could result in Settings crashing when changing display orientation or resolution.
We fixed an issue resulting in some Insiders seeing a large number of “Program Compatibility Assistant Service stopped working” critical events in Reliability Monitor.
We fixed an issue that could result in constant display flashing on certain devices.
We fixed an issue with the camera on certain devices showing unexpected artifacts.

We’re looking into an issue where some devices booting from eMMC storage may bugcheck when resuming from hibernate.
We’re looking into reports of the update process hanging for extended periods of time when attempting to install a new build.
We’re working on fixing an issue for a future Insider Preview build where in Settings > Privacy the Documents and Downloads sections show a broken icon next to their page name (just a rectangle).
We’re looking into reports that taskbar preview thumbnails aren’t rendering consistently (showing a blank area).

Looking for new ways to teach your kids? Bing has just the right tools for you! Check out our learning resources feature for kids. Everything is online and free. From Brain Pop to Mind Yeti, we’ve made learning easy, fun, and accessible. Find the resources here and get ready to learn!
If you want to be among the first to learn about these Bing features, join our Bing Insiders Program.

Introducing an improved spellcheck experience in Microsoft Edge – Microsoft Edge Blog

Beginning with Microsoft Edge 83, we’ve introduced a new spellcheck experience for Windows users, powered by Windows Spellcheck. The feature is supported on Windows 8.1 and above.
Previously, on Windows, Microsoft Edge and other Chromium browsers used open-source proofing tools for spell checking. Moving to Windows Spellcheck has a number of benefits, including support for additional languages and dialects, a shared custom dictionary, and better support for URLs, acronyms, and email addresses.
Based on early feedback from preview users, this represents an overall improvement in the quality of spell checking in Microsoft Edge, as illustrated in the examples below.

Hunspell Spellcheck

Windows Spellcheck

Generic Patterns:

Generic Patterns:

Markdown editor:

Markdown editor:

How to use spellcheck in Microsoft Edge
For most users, no action is required to set up spell checking – it will automatically inherit your preferred language settings from Windows. To configure the languages that will be spellchecked, navigate to the edge://settings/languages page.

Users can install additional languages to spellcheck in Windows Settings by navigating to Time & Language -> Language and selecting Add a preferred language.

If the user has not installed the necessary language pack (or if one is not available), Microsoft Edge will fall back to the prior experience powered by Hunspell.
This feature was developed as a collaboration between Google and Microsoft engineers in the Chromium project, enabling all Chromium-based browsers to benefit from Windows Spellcheck integration. Our thanks go out to Guillaume Jenkins and Rouslan Solomakhin (Google), and Bruce Long, Luis Sanchez Padilla, and Siye Liu (Microsoft) for their collaboration on this feature.
The new spellcheck experience is now available in Microsoft Edge starting with version 83, recently released to the Stable channel. Try it out and let us know what you think!
– Bo Cupp, Principal Software Engineer, Microsoft Edge– Grisha Lyukshin, Program Manager, Microsoft Edge

Creators: You can push boundaries with new Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition laptop | Windows Experience Blog

If you’re looking for a powerful, portable device that can handle big creative projects, check out the new Razer Blade 15 Studio Edition laptop, a mobile-workstation tailored to meet the needs of anyone from an audio engineer to VFX artist.

It comes with the latest 8-Core 10th Gen Intel processor capable of up to 5.1 GHz clock speeds when utilizing Intel Thermal Velocity Boost technology. The increased core count over the previous generation paired with the higher boost clock speeds provides significant performance gains in CPU intensive applications.
It’s also equipped with the NVIDIA Quadro RTX 5000 GPU for creators and technical professionals working with dense 3D models or complex VFX designs. It includes 16GB of GDDR6 memory for multi-app creative workflows and 48 RT Cores for improved real-time ray tracing performance. At the software level, the Quadro RTX 5000 takes advantage of RTX acceleration in more than 45 of the world’s top creative and design applications.
“If I was to ask myself a few years ago, if I could pull off a high concept CG animated project like ‘Battlesuit’ on a laptop remotely – I  would probably think I was insane,” says Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull, the series’ director and producer. “Today, tools like Unreal Engine powered by NVIDIA GPU rendering on a Blade laptop are empowering filmmakers like myself to push the boundaries of sci-fi storytelling without restrictions, thus enabling me to realize my vision regardless of how wild my imagination is.”

The laptop also comes with a custom calibrated 15.6-inch 4K OLED touch display, a UHS-III SD card reader and USB-C charging.
All this comes in a thin and durable design, with a chassis crafted from a single block of T6 grade aluminum and anodized with a mercury white finish.
Razer’s flagship creator laptop will retail for $4,299.99 and is available now at Razer.com and through select retailers in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Germany. It will come soon to select retailers in Europe, China, Asia Pacific and the Middle East.
For more information and to check out other laptops geared for creators, head over to Razer.
To learn more about how “Battlesuit” was created on a Razer Blade 15 by sci-fi director Dulull, visit #MADEWITHBLADE.

Meeting Insights: Contextual AI to help you achieve your meeting goals

It’s a big day for you. Back-to-back meetings are scheduled with critical customers and partners, and a parent-teacher conference is sandwiched in there as well. As you’re headed toward the last meeting, suddenly you cannot remember the key talking points. Who sent you the pre-read notes? Was it Taylor? No, possibly Drew. No luck. You are about two minutes from reaching the meeting room, and you want more than anything to pull out your phone and scream at it:

If only there existed an intelligent system that enabled you to find information this effortlessly. Now, there is: Meeting Insights provides AI capabilities that help you find information before, during, and after meetings as easily as if you had your own assistant to support you. Meeting Insights is now available for commercial Microsoft 365 and Office 365 customers in Outlook mobile (on both Android and iOS devices) and Outlook on the web. We would like to pull back the cover and talk about the science and technology that drives this scenario. Also, we’ll share why Meeting Insights is only the tip of the iceberg in how we at Microsoft are developing AI-powered capabilities to simplify and improve customer experience and productivity. We’re currently testing two new features that expand intelligent content recommendations to new scenarios in Outlook.

Providing usefulness in every context

Customers often say that finding content from meetings is a challenge. Therefore, we set out to build an intelligent personalized solution that provides customers with information from their mailboxes, OneDrive for Business accounts, and SharePoint sites to better help them accomplish the goals of their meetings.

The solution we developed powers the Meeting Insights feature that makes meetings more effective by helping customers:

  • Prepare for their meetings by offering them content they haven’t had a chance to read or may want to revisit;
  • Access relevant content during their meetings with ease;
  • Retrieve information about completed meetings by returning content presented during the meeting, sent meeting notes, and other relevant post-meeting material

Currently, Meeting Insights can be found on more than 40% of all Outlook mobile and Outlook on the web meetings.

Large-scale, personal, privacy-preserving AI

The most useful emails and files for a meeting may change over time (for example, those most useful before may be different than the ones most useful during or after). In order to create a relevant and useful service, we needed to find a way to reason across information shared by a customer as well as the files in their organization that they have permission to access and have opted to share. Microsoft 365 upholds a strict commitment to protecting customer data—promising to only use customer data for agreed upon services and not look at data during development or deployment of a new feature. This privacy promise, rather than being a hindrance, spurred us to think creatively and to innovate. As detailed below, we use a creative combination of weak and self-supervised machine learning (ML) algorithms in Meeting Insights to train large-scale language models without looking at any customer data.

The need to efficiently reason over millions of private corpora, themselves each potentially containing millions of items, underscores the complexity of the problem we needed to solve in Meeting Insights. To accomplish this reasoning, Meeting Insights enlists the help of Microsoft Graph, where shared data is captured in a graph representation. Microsoft Graph provides convenient APIs to reason over all of the shared email, files, and meetings for customers as well as the relationship between these items. This provides a high level of personalization to accurately meet customer needs.

Building intelligent features like Meeting Insights in the enterprise setting poses additional problems to the standard ML workflow. In enterprise settings, customers have high expectations of new products—especially the ones in their critical workflows and even more so when they are paying for the service. Because there is a need for an initial model to work out of the gate, standard ML workflows, which deploy a heuristic model with moderate performance and take time to learn from interaction data, lead to a lack of product acceptance. In Meeting Insights, we use ML algorithms that require less supervision to personalize customers’ experiences more quickly.

This challenge, which we refer to as the ‘’jump-start’’ problem, is therefore critical to product success in enterprise scenarios. This goes beyond standard “cold-start” challenges where data about a particular item or new user of a system is lacking, and instead the primary challenge is to get the entire process off the ground. Common approaches to improve model performance before deployment, such as getting annotations from crowd-sourced judges, have limited to no applicability due to the privacy-sensitive and personal nature of the recommendation and learning challenges. Finally, Microsoft 365 is used all over the world, and we wanted to make this technology available as broadly as possible and not simply to a few select languages.

Figure 1: Schematic depiction of how we train the model for recommending emails in Meeting Insights.

Solving the technical challenges

In order to make Meeting Insights possible, we needed to leverage three key components: weak supervision that is language agnostic, personalization enriched by the Microsoft Graph, and an agile, privacy-preserving ML pipeline.

Weak supervision: Large-scale supervised learning provides state-of-the-art results for many applications. However, this is impractical when building new enterprise search scenarios due to the privacy-sensitive and personal nature of the problem space. Instead of having annotators labeling data, we turned to weak supervision, an approach where heuristics can be defined to programmatically label data. To apply weak supervision to this task, we used Microsoft’s compliant experimentation platform. Emails and files attached to meetings were assigned a positive label, and all emails and files which the organizer could have attached at meeting creation time but did not were assigned a negative label. The benefit of using weak supervision for this problem went beyond preserving privacy as it allowed us to quickly and cheaply scale across languages and communication styles—all of which would be extremely challenging with a strongly supervised modeling approach involving annotators.

Personalization: Identifying the most relevant and useful information for a customer requires understanding the people and phrases that are important for that person. In order to identify the candidate set of relevant items and rank them, we leverage personalized representations of the most important key phrases and key people for a person. These personalized representations are learned in a self-supervised and privacy-preserving manner from nodes and edges in the Microsoft Graph. The context meeting is then combined with these personalized key-phrase and people representations to construct a candidate set using the same. Microsoft Search endpoint uses the same Microsoft Search technology powering search in applications such as Outlook, Teams, and SharePoint. In the final ranking stage, these personalized representations as well as more general embeddings are used to compute semantic relatedness between the context and candidate items, relationship strength via graph features, and collaboration strength based on relationship between key people.

Agile privacy preserving ML pipelines: As noted above, preserving the privacy of our customers’ data is sacrosanct for Microsoft. The weak and self-supervised algorithm techniques described above allow us algorithmically to train highly accurate and language agnostic large-scale models without having to look at the customer’s data. However, in order to put the algorithms into practice, test them, and innovate, we needed a platform that makes approaches like this possible. Innovations on the modeling front went hand-in-hand with development of ML platforms and processes that allowed our scientists to remain agile. Our in-house compliant experimentation platform provides key privacy safeguards. For example, our algorithms can operate on customer content to provide recommendations directly to customers, but our engineers cannot see that content except when it’s their own. Many tools were developed to assist in monitoring and debugging our ML pipelines, firing off alerts when data quality as well correlations between signals and labels diverged from expected values.

Self-hosting to improve for our customers

As we developed Meeting Insights, we first rolled it out to internal Microsoft customers and instrumented their interactions with the experience to identify areas for improvement. Early on, we saw from the data we had instrumented that 90% of the usage of Meeting Insights on a given day was for meetings that or the following day. Armed with this datapoint, we were able to implement a significant optimization by prefetching the insights for these meetings the moment the customer opens their calendar. This data-informed strategy resulted in a 50% reduction of customer-perceived latency.

Customer engagement with the deployed product showed other strong temporal effects worth calling out for this experience:

  • For meetings, freshness is important with about 5% of insights clicks happening within 15 minutes of the meeting being created.
  • For email insights, 30% of clicks go to emails sent/received in the 24 hours preceding the time of the user request.
  • For file insights, 35% of clicks go to files created or modified in the 24 hours preceding the time of the user request.

In less than four months after shipping our first Meeting Insights experience (for meeting invitations written in English), we were able to expand support to all enterprise customers across all languages. This was made possible by effectively leveraging the Microsoft Graph, being creative in the low-cost modeling approaches we employed, and being careful in the design of our AI solutions by using weak supervision and avoiding language specific dependencies. Over the next few months, we will be rolling Meeting Insights out to Cortana Briefing Mail recipients.

Meeting Insights is currently shown on more than 40% of opened meetings on supported Outlook clients, with customers reporting two out of three suggestions to be useful.

Providing broader contextual intelligence

Meeting Insights is not the only place where we are providing contextual intelligence that makes life easier for our customers. We are looking at how we can use Meeting Insights to accelerate our offerings in other scenarios using techniques like transfer learning, which has proven to be an effective and efficient way for us to gain reusable value from AI models learned for one scenario but reapplied to another.

For example, we are now transferring the learnings from our Meeting Insights models to power other intelligent content recommendations features such as “Suggested Attachments” and “Suggested Reply with File” on Outlook. These features take a customer and an email as input to return contextually relevant attachment suggestions that significantly reduce the time and effort required to share content via email.

“Suggested Attachments” and “Suggested Reply with File” are features currently in testing phases. We look forward to adding new offerings for Microsoft 365 users and beyond for intelligent content recommendation.

Imagine you’re heading to that last meeting again after an exceptionally busy day. You’ve suddenly forgotten the talking points, and you just can’t seem to recall who sent those pre-read notes. Was it Taylor? Drew? You feel like shouting at the sky, but then a thought flashes into your mind. You calmly pull up Outlook mobile on your phone as you approach the room, and with a simple tap on the meeting, your pre-read notes appear at the bottom of the screen thanks to Meeting Insights. Now, you’ve got this.

We look forward to continuing to improve life for our customers, and we hope the next time you walk into a meeting, you also walk in with more confidence knowing that Meeting Insights is there to assist you.

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Author: Steve Clarke

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U.K. agency uses Oracle analytics to ID annual savings

A top United Kingdom government agency turned to the Oracle analytics platform in pursuit of a billion pounds sterling ($1.23 billion USD) in annual cost savings.

The National Health Service Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), part of the U.K.’s Department of Health with a focus on supporting the government-run National Health System, manages 36 billion pounds of the NHS’ spending each year.

In 2014, the agency was told to identify and deliver the recurring savings by 2018. Analytics would be key in carrying out the mandate, said Andrew Mason, the NHSBSA’s data warehouse and BI manager, appearing Thursday at a session of the virtually held Oracle Analytics Summit. Oracle is spacing out the event, which started May 12, until August 18.

“It was this really that kick-started the data, analytics and insight area of the NHSBSA,” Mason said. “We set up a data science team. We quickly identified 100 million pounds worth of savings in the first six months, and that got us the buy-in [from the NHS] we needed to carry on our analytics journey.”

After building a data and analytics team, the NHSBSA considered various analytics platforms, including Informatica and even building its own. Ultimately, with its data coming in from both internal and external sources as well as on premises and from the cloud, the agency chose the Oracle analytics suite with Oracle Exadata as its database platform.

“At that moment in time — and probably still is — [we believe] it’s the best hardware you can buy for this kind of analytics,” Mason said, referring to the Exadata platform’s servers. “It was secure, it was stable, and we had lots of support from Oracle helping us get set up.”

Two years later, in 2016, the NHSBSA expanded its analytics capabilities to make data the driver behind its decisions. It began developing machine learning algorithms, building up its enterprise data warehouse and further developing its business intelligence capabilities by adding Oracle Analytics Cloud.

That allowed the agency to make more sense of its transactional data, evolve its internal management information and improve its products and services, all of which lead to cost efficiencies.

Now, using the Oracle analytics platform, the NHSBSA is able to bring all of its raw data into a landing area, move it into a staging area where it gets transformed, visualize the data and finally use it to create aggregate tables and prebuilt reports. And according to Mason, the agency’s analytics stack from Oracle can load 1.5 million database transactions in 45 minutes, stage the data in another 90 minutes, and move it to the final stage for analysis in 12 more minutes.

By 2019, the NHSBSA had reached the target of identifying savings of a billion pounds, and data analytics supported that to the tune of over 800 million pounds. But we didn’t stop there. We continue to push ourselves in the data and analytics arena.
Andrew MasonData warehouse and BI manager, U.K. National Health Service Business Services Administration

Meanwhile, the agency has 4,000 registered users running about 8,000 queries per day, each of which averages just 14 seconds.

“By 2019, the NHSBSA had reached the target of identifying savings of a billion pounds, and data analytics supported that to the tune of over 800 million pounds,” Mason said. “But we didn’t stop there. We continue to push ourselves in the data and analytics arena.”

Among the ways the Oracle analytics platform helped the NHSBSA find ways to reduce spending is to identify fraud and waste.

Mason said that over a billion pounds in U.K. healthcare funding is lost to fraud annually, and “data and analytics can help tackle this.” It can help identify such fraud as incidences of unnecessary prescriptions and activity in the name of deceased patients.

Meanwhile, the NHSBSA’s use of Oracle analytics can help it identify wasted spending on brand-name pharmaceuticals when generic options are available, according to the agency.

Another way the Oracle analytics platform helps the agency reduce costs is to improve prescription behavior, in particular over-prescribing of antibiotics and other drugs. It also can help pinpoint incidences of polypharmacy, the taking of medications concurrently that can sometimes lead to dangerous consequences.

A patient holds a bottle of medication while looking up information on her phone.
A patient looks up information about medication.

“The data scientists did the grunt work,” Mason said. “They came up with the insights, and then we productionized that through our data warehouse and BI dashboards and started pushing that data out to the wider NHS to start improving behaviors as well as putting that data in the hands of policymakers to make more informed decisions.”

Over the past two years, according to Mason, general practitioners in the U.K. had prescribed more than a million fewer antibiotics. Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 fewer patients are on 10 or more medications.

Now, amid the COVID-19 crisis, the NHSBSA is using the Oracle analytics platform to help the U.K. combat the virus.

Its data has helped reduce in-office visits by identifying patients who could benefit from getting prescriptions filled electronically, The data also identifies potential pressures on pharmacists by looking at how many regular customers are over 70 years old. In addition, the system helps administrators discover who should be on the U.K.’s shielded patient list — those at high risk of complications who were advised at the start of the lockdown to stay at home for 12 weeks.

“For our data sets to be used in such important work, I don’t think there’s any bigger compliment,” Mason said. “It makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it.”

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Pandemic could alter healthcare CIO terrain

Healthcare CIOs started 2020 with a roadmap for health IT projects that then took a sharp turn because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

David Chou, CIO at Harris Health System in Houston, Texas, and former principal analyst at Constellation Research Inc., said healthcare CIOs have adjusted their focus away from longer-term projects and toward day-to-day technologies and priorities that enable operations to continue. The pandemic could also be a catalyst for transforming the role of the CIO, making a strong case for healthcare IT leaders to push out of the back office and become executive partners, Chou said.

In this Q&A, Chou, who started as CIO at Harris Health System in May, discusses what tools CIOs are looking at right now as well as how the pandemic will have a lasting effect on health IT and the role of CIO.

What trends or technologies are healthcare CIOs paying attention to right now?

David ChouDavid Chou

David Chou: Virtual care, I think that is definitely here to stay. The industry has been waiting for it. Adoption has been slow with maybe some resistance, but I would say now people are going to go full speed ahead and there is a lot of emphasis there. Remote patient monitoring, anything that’s going to improve the wellness of patients without having to see a doctor, those types of initiatives will definitely be there.

I think a lot of CIOs may also recognize [areas] where they don’t have the proper foundation in place to support these virtual initiatives. … So there are a lot of investments in the necessary foundation to really scale, for example, a remote workforce from 3,000 to 18,000. You’ve got to have the right foundation to be able to scale that properly in an expeditious manner. Foundational technology is top-of-mind right now versus any new shiny object.

What are some of those foundational technologies CIOs are looking at?

Chou: The infrastructure networks — you have to be thinking about utilizing software. You hear about software-defined networks where you can roll out a new site and manage the flow of traffic utilizing software. Really scale up or scale down your site easily. That’s going to be huge, and what people should be thinking about in terms of next-generation infrastructure.

Foundational technology is top-of-mind right now versus any new shiny object.
David ChouCIO, Harris Health System

Are CIOs doubling down on tools they have versus bringing in new technologies?

Chou: Definitely [doubling down] for the later part of this year and maybe Q1, Q2 of next year. I think there’s enough work in terms of deploying and optimizing what you already have in-house rather than going out and buying the new shiny thing people may be thinking about.

What will CIOs be looking at to help healthcare systems reopen for routine, in-person care?

Chou: Some organizations are going to have to mature their data platforms, whether it’s business intelligence or just enterprise analytics because that is going to help drive decision-making. … There will be a lot of emphasis on making data available so users can take action. That’s going to be critical as things are starting to open up.

Organizations have to reevaluate their business models too. Coming into the start of this year pre-COVID, there was a lot of emphasis on modernizing their back office. [For example,] moving toward ERP is probably on everyone’s agenda in the healthcare provider world within the next two to three years. That may be on pause, but this may also be a good time to reflect on that. That’s not just updating a system, it’s about reevaluating your supply chain that has probably not changed in the last 15 years. You have to redesign the process to be more efficient in today’s new world. You can only do that with the right data in place to make those decisions, but also to transform the organization’s process. That’s the hard part.

How do you think this pandemic will impact the role of the CIO?

Chou: I would say there’s probably going to be a change in expectation for IT and CIO leaders. The traditional philosophy and traditional management of just keeping the lights on is probably not going to fare well in the new era where [organizations] are looking at technology to be a competitive advantage and a differentiator. The CIO that can really do that can help organizations maximize their investment and are going to be key drivers and partners for the CEO and the executive team. The ones who are not able to do that and are focused on managing technology without understanding the true impact, I would say they may not be around their seats much longer.

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Kioxia gives hyperscalers new custom flash drive options

New software-enabled flash technology from Kioxia aims to give hyperscale developers and architects greater control over the way their drives store data — and leave the storage device building to the flash manufacturers. 

Kioxia said it designed software-enabled flash (SEF) to address hyperscalers’ needs for more efficient flash storage to work with high-performance applications such as the RocksDB embedded database and Firecracker virtual machine monitor. But Kioxia expects the SEF technology would become more broadly useful as those types of applications move into traditional data centers.

Some major cloud providers and hyperscalers make their own flash drives, often using the Open Channel SSD specification, to better address their workload and data center needs. But Kioxia says Open Channel SSD efforts require too much host overhead and involvement with low-level media characteristics.

Kioxia demonstrated new software-enabled flash technology at the Open Compute Summit this month that it claimed would provide greater host control over the solid-state storage, data placement and data access. The technology removes the need for developers to manage the flash media.

“It is our intent to enable the hyperscalers to focus on their higher value-added work and let the flash manufacturers supply the storage devices,” said Scott Stetzer, a senior director in the memory and storage strategy division at Kioxia America (formerly Toshiba Memory Corp.).

Jim Handy, general director and semiconductor analyst at Objective Analysis, said hyperscalers and other sophisticated flash users that want to “eke out every last bit of performance” out of their flash investments turned to the Open Channel SSD architecture to offload many SSD housekeeping functions onto the host. But they also had to cope with chips that could behave differently depending on the manufacturer or the flash generation.

“The host-based software had to be reconfigured every time a new flash chip was used,” Handy said. “This is an untenable situation.”

Handy said Kioxia’s SEF approach would abstract the flash performance through a common API and make the chipmakers responsible for translating the API commands to their particular flash chips behavior. That would allow users to move from one vendor to another and from one generation of flash chip to the next in a hostmanaged system without having to change the application host software, Handy said.

Kioxia flash
A software-enabled flash (SEF) hardware unit combines flash memory with a small onboard system-on-a-chip (SoC) controller, residing on a printed-circuit-board (PCB) module to deliver flash storage over a PCI Express connection. SEF also can support an on-device DRAM controller based on user needs.

SEF consists of an application programming interface (API), software libraries and sample code that Kioxia plans to release this summer. The vendor will manage development through an open source project. Kioxia also plans to deliver an API instruction and software development kit to show developers how to implement the API with working code they can use, modify or reference.

In addition to software components, SEF requires customized hardware flash modules with a purpose-built controller. Kioxia is developing a prototype SEF hardware unit. Other manufacturers could also build the SEF units based on the open-source SEF API and develop their own controller or buy it from a vendor such as Marvell, Stetzer said.

Eric Burgener, a research vice president at IDC, sees Kioxia’s SEF initiative furthering the trend to customize and add features to flash. He said few established enterprise storage vendors are satisfied with the firmware in commodity, off-the-shelf SSDs. But large vendors such as Dell EMC, Hitachi Vantara and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) can get SSD manufacturers to produce customized firmware that adds the capabilities they want. IBM and Pure Storage went farther, making their own flash devices with custom firmware, Burgener said.

Hyperscalers such as Amazon, Facebook, and Google developed much of their own web-scale infrastructures using off-the-shelf hardware and software they wrote in-house, Burgener noted. He said the logical next step for them was building their own custom storage devices. 

Now Kioxia is providing a toolkit that makes it easier for hyperscalers to build storage devices tailored to their specific requirements. Burgener said he would not be surprised to see other flash memory suppliers — Intel, Micron, Samsung, SK Hynix and Western Digital — follow with similar toolkits.

What customers get out of it is that it makes it easier and faster, and presumably less expensive, to produce custom devices.
Eric BurgenerResearch vice president, IDC

“What Kioxia gets out of it is that the hyperscalers will buy flash media from Kioxia if they do this,” Burgener said. “What customers get out of it is that it makes it easier and faster, and presumably less expensive, to produce custom devices.”

Burgener predicted demand for SEF will eventually filter down from the hyperscalers to other large internet-based businesses and perhaps even to large enterprises that have internal development capability and ample market power.

“I don’t ever see midrange enterprises doing this,” Burgener said. “But if an end user customer is large enough, buys enough storage devices and has the requisite internal development expertise, and there are meaningful benefits that they can accrue from doing this, then I could see it getting to the very large enterprises.”

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Xbox Series X: The Most Powerful and Compatible Next-Gen Console with Thousands of Games at Launch – Xbox Wire

Gaming leaves an indelible mark on all of us. From the epic stories and universes we experience playing as our favorite heroes, to the heat of intense competition, victory and defeat. Through the shared accomplishments we achieve as a worldwide community, gaming brings us together.

Thousands of developers from across the globe are currently creating the next generation of transformative games, many of which can only be realized through the power and innovation of the Xbox Series X. Led by Halo Infinite, our 15 Xbox Game Studios teams are hard at work creating the biggest and best line up of exclusives in Xbox history. We are incredibly excited to show many of the new games in development for Xbox Series X soon.

Preserving Your Gaming Legacy

As gamers, we also know how important it is to preserve and respect our gaming legacies. Your favorite games and franchises, your progression and achievements, and the friendships and communities you create through gaming should all move with you across generations. Not only that, your favorite gaming accessories and peripherals should also move forward with you as well.

Our goal has always been to empower gamers to play the best versions of games from across four generations of Xbox at the launch of Xbox Series X. These principles were key to us from Day 1 and influenced many of our design decisions as we started on our journey to create our most powerful and compatible console ever.

Compatibility Journey

Our compatibility journey began with the announcement of Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility coming to Xbox One at E3 2015. I clearly remember that first magical experience of jumping into one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, Final Fantasy XIII, and instantly resuming where I had left off years before as if no time had passed at all. I was instantly transported back to that special time and all the great memories and personal connections I have made through gaming. The energy and passion from the community continues to motivate us to this day.

Through a tremendous amount of hard work, technical innovation, and partnership with the industry’s leading creators we were not only able to bring more than 500 Xbox 360 games to Xbox One, we were able to go back even further into the archives and resurrect some of your favorite franchises from the original Xbox. The very same team who created new innovative ways to preserve and enhance your existing catalog of games on Xbox One is the same team pushing the envelope again with Xbox Series X.

Maintaining compatibility presents a massive technical challenge as fundamental system and chip architectures advance across generations. Developers highly optimize their games to the unique capabilities and performance of a console to provide the best experience for their players. To make the Xbox Series X our most compatible console ever required both significant innovation in the design of the custom processor as well as the unique design of the Xbox operating system and hypervisor at the heart of our next generation platform.

With more than 100,000 hours of play testing already completed, thousands of games are already playable on Xbox Series X today, from the biggest blockbusters to cult classics and fan favorites. Many of us in Team Xbox play on the Xbox Series X daily as our primary console and switching between generations is seamless. By the time we launch this holiday, the team will have spent well over 200,000 hours ensuring your game library is ready for you to jump in immediately.

All Games Play Better on Xbox Series X

Not only should gamers be able to play all of these games from the past, but they should play better than ever before. Backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and the SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the Xbox Series X for each and every backward compatible game. This means that all titles run at the peak performance that they were originally designed for, many times even higher performance than the games saw on their original launch platform, resulting in higher and more steady framerates and rendering at their maximum resolution and visual quality. Backwards compatible titles also see significant reductions in in-game load times from the massive leap in performance from our custom NVME SSD which powers the Xbox Velocity Architecture. As I play through my personal backlog as part of our internal testing, all of the incredible games from Xbox One and earlier play best on Xbox Series X.

The team was not content to just rely on the increased hardware performance to improve your playing experience. The team developed new platform level capabilities to ensure all of your games continue to get even better. In partnership with the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, Xbox Series X delivers a new, innovative HDR reconstruction technique which enables the platform to automatically add HDR support to games. As this technique is handled by the platform itself, it allows us to enable HDR with zero impact to the game’s performance and we can also apply it to Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles developed almost 20 years ago, well before the existence of HDR.

In addition, the new Quick Resume feature was designed to not only work with new games, but it can also be enabled for backward-compatible titles. Quick Resume enables players to resume exactly where they left off, across multiple titles, ensuring gamers can get right back to the fun in an instant.

All of these advances happen at the platform level and require no additional work from title developers.

Advancing the State of the Art of Game Preservation

In addition to preserving the legacy of our loyal fans who have been with us since the beginning, we enable entirely new generations of gamers to play and enjoy the timeless games from our past while respecting and honoring their creators.

Beginning with Xbox One X, the compatibility team developed brand new innovations that could be applied to a hand curated list of titles to enhance them even further than what was possible when they were first created. Techniques such as the Heutchy method, which enables titles to render with increased resolutions up to 4K, or applying anisotropic filtering to improve the final image quality bring these classic games up to modern standards, better than ever before.

With all of the additional power and advancements of the Xbox Series X, the compatibility team now has a veritable playground of new capabilities to innovate and push the limits of game preservation and enhancement. The compatibility team has invented brand new techniques that enable even more titles to run at higher resolutions and image quality while still respecting the artistic intent and vision of the original creators. We are also creating whole new classes of innovations including the ability to double the frame rate of a select set of titles from 30 fps to 60 fps or 60 fps to 120 fps. 

The team also continues to listen to feedback from the community on additional titles you would like to see added to the compatibility program. Resurrecting titles from history often presents a complex mix of technical and licensing challenges, but the team is committed to doing everything we can to continue to preserve our collective gaming legacy.

We can’t wait to share more with you as we get closer to the launch of Xbox Series X this holiday.

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Author: Microsoft News Center