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Microsoft News

How autonomous systems use AI that learns from the world around it

Millions of engineers across industries such as automotive, aerospace, industrial machinery and medical devices have already built models of the systems they work on using MATLAB or Simulink. This new partnership allows users to bring simulation models built using MATLAB and Simulink to Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform, enabling unprecedented scalability and making it easier for developers and engineers building autonomous systems.

“Our core interest really comes down to engineering productivity — the ability to succeed at a task in the least amount of time possible,” said Loren Dean, MathWorks senior director of engineering for MATLAB products.  “This partnership allows engineers to stay in a familiar workflow to learn and apply AI without having to do the things that are non-traditional for them, like setting up the infrastructure to run a bunch of simulations at once. They’re shielded from all that.”

By running hundreds or thousands of simulations in parallel in Azure and learning from massive amounts of data at once, deep reinforcement learning algorithms can find optimal solutions to chaotic, real-world control problems that other types of AI still struggle to solve.

It turns out these problems are everywhere, said Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Business AI. Microsoft received three times more interest than it expected after opening its autonomous systems limited preview program in May.

The companies who have applied to work with Microsoft’s autonomous systems team and partners are looking to develop control systems to intelligently stitch fabric, optimize chemical engineering processes, manufacture durable consumer goods and even process food. The potential goes far beyond robotics or autonomous vehicles, Microsoft says.

“These are the kinds of diverse use cases for autonomous systems that we’re starting to see emerge,” Pall said.  “As customers learn about the capabilities of our toolchain, we’re seeing them apply it in really interesting ways because these control problems exist almost everywhere you look.”

Most customer use cases Microsoft has seen so far involve helping existing employees do their jobs more efficiently, safely or with higher quality, said Mark Hammond, Microsoft general manager for Business AI and the former CEO of the startup Bonsai, which Microsoft acquired last year. As sensors in modern workplaces collect ever more data, it can become difficult for any one operator — such as someone who is guiding a drill bit or calibrating expensive equipment — to track it all. AI tools can process that data and bring the most relevant patterns to that operator’s attention, enabling them to make more informed decisions.

“The journey from automated to autonomous systems is a spectrum of solutions, and very few of the engagements we’re seeing are in that fully autonomous with no humans in the loop zone,” Hammond said. “The vast majority are assistive technologies that work with people.”

Training AI systems in virtual worlds

Traditionally, AI models have often relied on labor-intensive labeled data for training, which works well for many problems but not for those that lack real-world data. Now, Microsoft and partners like MathWorks are expanding the use of AI into more areas such as those that require learning from the three-dimensional physical world around them — through the power of reinforcement learning and simulation.

Engineers have long used simulations to mathematically model the systems they work with in the real world. This allows them to estimate how a particular change in a chemical, manufacturing or industrial process may affect performance, without having to worry about slowing production or putting people or equipment at risk.

Now, those same simulations can be used to train reinforcement learning algorithms to find optimal solutions, Dean said.

“The AI is really augmenting how these traditional systems have worked — it just gives you greater confidence in your design and gives you additional capabilities that either had to be done manually before or were difficult to solve,” Dean said.

Imagine a building engineer whose job is to calibrate all the heating and cooling systems in a large commercial building to keep each room at a comfortable temperature as people stream in and out for meetings and outside weather fluctuates — while using as little energy as possible. That could involve tuning dozens of different parameters and might take many cycles of modeling and measuring changes for that engineer to find the best balance of controls.

With the new Microsoft and MathWorks partnership, that engineering expert could use machine teaching tools to help an AI system focus on the most important dimensions of the problem, set safety limits and figure out how to reward success as the algorithms learn. This allows for greater transparency and trust in how the AI system is making decisions and also helps it work more efficiently than randomly exploring all possibilities.

The engineer could train the AI using models that he or she already developed in MATLAB or Simulink. The simulations can be automatically scaled up in the Azure cloud — which means the engineer doesn’t have to worry about learning how to host and manage computing clusters.

The end result is the building engineer uses AI to zero in on promising solutions much faster — but still uses his or her judgment to decide what works best.

“This partnership really marries the best of MathWorks’ capabilities for modeling and simulation with the best of Microsoft’s capabilities for cloud computing and AI,” Microsoft’s Hammond said.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Project Silica proof of concept stores Warner Bros. ‘Superman’ movie on quartz glass

Turning digital data into physical artifacts

With a nearly 100-year history in film and television, Warner Bros. owns one of the world’s deepest and most significant entertainment libraries. Re-releasing older films in new formats or for new audiences is an important part of the business. It’s also a tremendous cultural responsibility to preserve some of the world’s most beloved stories in perpetuity, Colf said.

“Imagine if a title like the ‘Wizard of Oz’ or a show like ‘Friends’ wasn’t available for generation after generation to enjoy and see and understand,” she said. “We think that’s unimaginable, and that’s why we take the job of preserving and archiving our content extremely seriously.”

The company has redundancy plans in place to handle multiple worst-case scenarios: an earthquake or hurricane that strikes one of the coasts, a fire where the suppression systems don’t kick in or a climate control failure that allows moisture to build up and ruin film stock.

The goal is to have three archival copies of each asset stored in different locations around the world: two separate digitized copies, along with the original physical copy on whatever medium a film or television episode or animated cartoon was created.

Fortunately, original film negatives will last for centuries if stored in the right conditions. But for some older television shows — think episodes of “Alice” shot in the 1970s — the original physical copy has a limited shelf life that requires migration to newer formats. And for today’s films and television shows that are shot digitally, the archival-quality third copy has a very short migration cycle of three to five years, which is challenging to manage.

“Let’s say a TV show is pushing directly into our digital archives; there’s nothing physical,” said Steven Anastasi, Warner Bros. vice president for global media archives and preservation services. “The digital file is going in but I don’t have something I can put in a vault or in a salt mine or anything physical coming into the building.”

Researcher Youssef Assaf drops a square of silica glass in a kettle of boiling water to demonstrate its durability
Microsoft Project Silica researcher Youssef Assaf drops a square of silica glass in a kettle of boiling water to demonstrate its durability. The team has baked, boiled, microwaved, demagnetized and scoured similar pieces of glass with steel wool — with no loss to the data stored inside. Photo by Jonathan Banks for Microsoft.

Warner Bros. is potentially looking at Project Silica to create a permanent physical asset to store important digital content and provide durable backup copies. Right now, for theatrical releases that are shot digitally, the company creates an archival third copy by converting it back to analog film. It splits the final footage into three color components —cyan, magenta and yellow — and transfers each onto black-and-white film negatives that won’t fade like color film.

Those negatives are put into a cold storage archive. In these highly managed vaults, temperature and humidity are tightly controlled, and air sniffers look for signs of chemical decomposition that could signal problems. If they need the film back, they must reverse those complicated steps.

That process is expensive, and there are only a handful of film labs left in the world that can do it. And the process is not optimal from a qualitative point of view, said Brad Collar, Warner Bros. senior vice president of global archives and media engineering.

“When we shoot something digitally — with zeros and ones representing the pixels on the screen ­— and print that to an analog medium called film, you destroy the original pixel values. And, sure, it looks pretty good, but it’s not reversible,” Collar said.

“If we can take the digital representation of those pixels and put it on a medium like silica and read it back off exactly as it was when it came out of the camera, we’ve done our preservation job to the very best of our ability. That’s what I love about this,” he said.

It’s not economical to create archival film negatives for every digitally shot television episode in the Warner Bros. library. The company hopes Project Silica might prove to be a cheaper, higher quality alternative to create physical archives of digital content.

There’s much more work ahead to reach that scale — Microsoft researchers would need to significantly increase the speed at which data can be written and read, as well as its density. Warner Bros. envisions its own infrastructure to read data from the glass archives. But both partners see promise in how far they’ve come.

“If Project Silica’s storage solution proves to be as cost-effective and as scalable as it could be — and we all recognize it’s still early days — this is something we’d love to see adopted by other studios and our peers and other industries,” Colf said.

“If it works for us, we firmly believe that this will be a benefit to anyone who wants to preserve and archive content,” she said.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft’s new approach to hybrid: Azure services when and where customers need them | Innovation Stories

As business computing needs have grown more complex and sophisticated, many enterprises have discovered they need multiple systems to meet various requirements – a mix of technology environments in multiple locations, known as hybrid IT or hybrid cloud.

Technology vendors have responded with an array of services and platforms – public clouds, private clouds and the growing edge computing model – but there hasn’t necessarily been a cohesive strategy to get them to work together.

We got here in an ad hoc fashion,” said Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Customers didn’t have a strategic model to work from.

Instead, he said, various business owners in the same company may have bought different software as a service (SaaS) applications, or developers may have independently started leveraging Amazon Web Services, Azure or Google Cloud Platform to develop a set of applications.

At its Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced its solution to such cloud sprawl. The company has launched a preview of Azure Arc, which offers Azure services and management to customers on other clouds or infrastructure, including those offered by Amazon and Google.

John JG Chirapurath, general manager for Azure data, blockchain and artificial intelligence at Microsoft, said the new service is both an acknowledgement of, and a response to, the reality that many companies face today. They are running various parts of their businesses on different cloud platforms, and they also have a lot of data stored on their own new or legacy systems.

In all those cases, he said, these customers are telling Microsoft they could use the benefits of Azure cloud innovation whether or not their data is stored in the cloud, and they could benefit from having the same Azure capabilities – including security safeguards – available to them across their entire portfolio.

We are offering our customers the ability to take their services, untethered from Azure, and run them inside their own datacenter or in another cloud,” Chirapurath said.

Microsoft says Azure Arc builds on years of work the company has done to serve hybrid cloud needs. For example, Azure Resource Manager, released in 2014, was created with the vision that it would manage resources outside of Azure, including in companies’ internal servers and on other clouds.

That flexibility can help customers operate their services on a mix of clouds more efficiently, without purchasing new hardware or switching among cloud providers. Companies can use a public cloud to obtain computing power and data storage from an outside vendor, but they can also house critical applications and sensitive data on their own premises in a private cloud or server.

Then there’s edge computing, which stores data where the user is, in between the company and the public cloud for example, on their customers’ mobile devices or on sensors in smart buildings like hospitals and factories.

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That’s compelling for companies that need to run AI models on systems that aren’t reliably connected to the cloud, or to make computations more quickly than if they had to send large amounts of data to and from the cloud. But it also must work with companies’ cloud-based, internet-connected systems.

“A customer at the edge doesn’t want to use different app models for different environments,” said Mark Russinovich, Azure chief technology officer. “They need apps that span cloud and edge, leveraging the same code and same management constructs.”

Streamlining and standardizing a customer’s IT structure gives developers more time to build applications that produce value for the business instead of managing multiple operating models. And enabling Azure to integrate administrative and compliance needs across the enterprise – automating system updates and security enhancements brings additional savings in time and money.

“You begin to free up people to go work on other projects, which means faster development time, faster time to market,” said HPE’s Vogel. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc.

Arpan Shah, general manager of Azure infrastructure, said Azure Arc allows companies to use Azure’s governance tools for their virtual machines, Kubernetes clusters and data across different locations, helping ensure companywide compliance on things like regulations, security, spending policies and auditing tools.

Azure Arc is underpinned in part by Microsoft’s commitment to technologies that customers are using today, including virtual machines, containers and Kubernetes, an open source system for organizing and managing containers. That makes clusters of applications easily portable across a hybrid IT environment – to the cloud, the edge or an internal server.

“It’s easy for a customer to put that container anywhere,” Chirapurath said. “Today, you can keep it here. Tomorrow, you can move it somewhere else.”

Microsoft says these latest Azure updates reflect an ongoing effort to better understand the complex needs of customers trying to manage their Linux and Windows servers, Kubernetes clusters and data across environments.

“This is just the latest wave of this sort of innovation,” Chirapurath said. “We’re really thinking much more expansively about customer needs and meeting them according to how they’d like to run their applications and services.”

Top image: Erik Vogel, global vice president for customer experience for HPE GreenLake at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, with a prototype of memory-driven computing. HPE is working with Microsoft on offerings that will complement Azure Arc. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

How Microsoft re-envisioned the data warehouse with Azure Synapse Analytics

About four years ago, the Microsoft Azure team began to notice a big problem troubling many of its customers. A mass migration to the cloud was in full swing, as enterprises signed up by the thousands to reap the benefits of flexible, largescale computing and data storage. But the next iteration of that tech revolution, in which companies would use their growing stores of data to get more tangible business benefits, had stalled.

Technology providers, including Microsoft, have built a variety of systems to collect, retrieve and analyze enormous troves of information that would uncover market trends and insights, paving the way toward a new era of improved customer service, innovation and efficiency.

But those systems were built independently by different engineering teams and sold as individual products and services. They weren’t designed to connect with one another, and customers would have to learn how to operate them separately, wasting time, money and precious IT talent.

“Instead of trying to add more features to each of our services, we decided to take a step back and figure out how to bring their core capabilities together to make it easy for customers to collect and analyze all of their increasingly diverse data, to break down data silos and work together more collaboratively,” said Raghu Ramakrishnan, Microsoft’s chief technology officer for data.

At its Ignite conference this week in Orlando, Florida, Microsoft announced the end result of a yearslong effort to address the problem: Azure Synapse Analytics, a new service that merges the capabilities of Azure SQL Data Warehouse with new enhancements such as on-demand query as a service.

Microsoft said this new offering will help customers put their data to work much more quickly, productively and securely by pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses and big data analytics systems. And, the company said, with deeper integration between Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, Azure Synapse Analytics can reduce the time required to process and share that data, speeding up the insights that businesses can glean.

What’s more, it will allow many more businesses to take advantage of game-changing technologies like data analytics and artificial intelligence, which are helping scientists to better predict the weather, search engines to better understand people’s intent and workers to more easily handle mundane tasks.

This newest effort to break down data silos also builds on other Microsoft projects, such as the Open Data Initiative and Azure Data Share, which allows you to share data from multiple sources and even other organizations.

Microsoft said Azure Synapse Analytics is also designed to support the increasingly popular DevOps strategy, in which development and operations staff collaborate more closely to create and implement services that work better throughout their lifecycles.

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A learning process

Azure Synapse Analytics is the result of a lot of work, and a little trial and error.

At first, Ramakrishnan said, the team developed highlevel guidelines showing customers how to glue the systems together themselves. But they quickly realized that was too much to ask.

“That required a lot of expertise in the nitty gritty of our platforms,” Ramakrishnan said. Customers made it overwhelmingly clear that we needed to do better.”

So, the company went back to the drawing board and spent an additional two years revamping the heart of its data business, Azure SQL Data Warehouse, which lets customers build, test, deploy and manage applications and services in the cloud.

A breakthrough came when the company realized that customers need to analyze all their data in a single service, without having to copy terabytes of information across various systems to use different analytic capabilities – as has traditionally been the case with data warehouses and data lakes.

With the new offering, customers can use their data analytics engine of choice, such as Apache Spark or SQL, on all their data. That’s true whether it’s structured data, such as rows of numbers on spreadsheets, or unstructured data, such as a collection of social media posts.

This project was risky. It involved deep technical surgery: completely rewriting the guts of the SQL query processing engine to optimize it for the cloud and make it capable of instantly handling big bursts of work as well as very large and diverse datasets.

It also required unprecedented integration among several teams within Microsoft, some of whom would have to make hard choices. Established plans had to be scrapped. Resources earmarked for new features would be redirected to help make the entire system work better.

“In the beginning, the conversations were often heated. But as we got into the flow of it, they became easier. We began to come together,” Ramakrishnan said.

Microsoft also had to make sure that the product would work for any company, regardless of employees’ technical expertise.

“Most companies can’t afford to hire teams of 20 people to drive data projects and wire together multiple systems. There aren’t even enough skilled people out there to do all that work,” said Daniel Yu, director of product marketing for Azure Data and Artificial Intelligence.

Making it easy for customers

Customers can bring together various sources of data into a single feed with Azure Synapse Analytics Studio, a console – or single pane of glass that will allow a business professional with minimal technical expertise to locate and collect data from multiple sources like sales, supply chain, finance and product development. They can then choose how and where to store that data, and they can use it to create reports through Microsoft’s popular Power BI analytics service.

In a matter of hours, Azure Synapse will deliver useful business insights that used to take days or even weeks and months, said Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data.

“Let’s say an executive wants a detailed report on sales performance in the eastern U.S. over the last six months,” Kumar said. Today, a data engineer has to do a lot of work to find where that data is stored and write a lot of brittle code to tie various services together. They might even have to bring in a systems integrator partner. With Azure Synapse, there’s no code required. It’s a much more intuitive experience.”

The complexity of the technical problems Azure Synapse addressed would be hard to overstate. Microsoft had to meld multiple independent components into one coherent form factor, while giving a wide range of people – from data scientists to line of business owners – their preferred tools for accessing and using data.


With Azure Synapse, there’s no code required. It’s a much more intuitive experience.”

~ Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data


That includes products like SQL Server, the open source programming interface Apache Spark, Azure Data Factory and Azure Data Studio, as well as notebook interfaces preferred by many data professionals to clean and model data.

“Getting all those capabilities to come together fluidly, making it run faster, simpler, eliminating overlapping processes – there was some scary good stuff getting done,” Ramakrishnan said.

The result is a data analytics system that will be as easy to use as a modern mobile phone. Just as the smartphone replaced several devices by making all of their core capabilities intuitively accessible in a single device, the Azure Synapse “smartphone for data” now allows a data engineer to build an entire end-to-end data pipeline in one place. It also enables data scientists and analysts to look at the underlying data in ways that are natural to them.

And just as the phone has driven waves of collaboration and business innovation, Azure Synapse will free up individuals and companies to introduce new products and services as quickly as they can dream them up, Microsoft said.

“If we can help different people view data through a lens that is natural to them, while it’s also visible to others in ways natural to them, then we will transform the way companies work,” Ramakrishnan said. That’s how we should measure our success.

Top photo: Rohan Kumar, corporate vice president for Azure Data, says Azure Synapse will deliver useful business insights that used to take days or even weeks and months. Photo by Scott Eklund/Red Box Pictures.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

The First Wave of Xbox Black Friday Deals Has Arrived: Discounts on Sea of Thieves and Select Xbox Wireless Controllers – Xbox Wire

The holidays will be here before you know it, and to kick off the start of November, we are unveiling the first wave of Xbox Black Friday discounts. This is just a sample of our entire Black Friday deals – tune in via Mixer for a special episode of Inside Xbox live from X019 in London on Thursday, November 14 at 12:00 p.m. PT for the full lineup of Xbox Black Friday discounts and offers. You won’t want to miss out!

First up, we are offering a 50% discount on Sea of Thieves: Anniversary Edition, the fastest-selling first-party new IP of this generation. Join this multiplayer, shared-world adventure game featuring new modes like the story driven Tall Tales or The Arena, a competitive multiplayer experience on the high seas. Xbox Live Gold is required to play Sea of Thieves: Anniversary Edition and is sold separately.

Fans can also save up to $20 on select Xbox Wireless Controllers, including some of the newest controllers in the Xbox collection. Snag the Night Ops Camo Special Edition, Sport Blue Special Edition, Gears 5 Kait Diaz Limited Edition controllers and many more at the lowest prices of the season.

Deals are valid starting on November 24 and run through December 2, 2019. Plus, Black Friday kicks off even earlier for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and Xbox Live Gold members, with Early Access beginning on November 21.

Visit Xbox.com, Microsoft Store and participating retailers globally for more details on availability and pricing as deals will vary between regions and retailers. See here for more Black Friday deals from Microsoft Store.

Xbox has something for everyone on your gift this list year, and at every price point. Be sure to tune in to Inside Xbox at X019 on Thursday, November 14 at 12:00 p.m. PT for the full lineup of Xbox Black Friday deals.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Stepping into each other’s shoes leads to better online shopping and a newly innovative relationship for Mastercard and Microsoft | Transform

Mastercard and Microsoft walked a mile in each other’s shoes – or in an update on the old adage, spent three days hacking together – and came up with a new service to make shopping online easier and more secure around the world, not only for shoppers, but also retailers and banks.

The collaborative experience also kicked off a new way of thinking about innovation that promises to lead to even more developments to help e-commerce thrive.

New York-based Mastercard is a leading technology company in the payments space, processing about $20 billion in transactions a day across more than 210 countries or territories. And Microsoft is one of the top e-commerce merchants in the world, with online sales from the Microsoft Store, Xbox, Azure, Office 365 and more.

Both companies have felt an urgency in shifting toward online payments – especially with the increasing popularity of mobile apps and devices – that has made security more difficult even as consumers expect greater ease of use. So they brought together teams of engineers to tackle the issue at the recent Microsoft global Hackathon at Microsoft’s Redmond, Washington, headquarters.

man at table holding credit card and looking at computer screen“Both our infrastructures are used in creating online transactions, so we owe it to our customers to make them safe, secure and simple,” says Raj Dhamodharan, Mastercard’s executive vice president of channel propositions and partnerships. “Through co-innovation our customers benefit, because we’re solving a pain point that otherwise might take years to solve.”

The collaboration comes amid changing cultures at Microsoft and Mastercard that are being fostered from the top down.

“Both companies have shifted their mentality that by partnering and bringing in diverse thoughts, we build better products and work better together,” says Will White, Microsoft’s director of payments. “The benefit is you get true innovation from two companies that have radically different missions, in different industries, with different constituents.”

Mastercard provides payment services to Microsoft’s online stores, and Microsoft sells technology services back. So the Hackathon teams built on that symbiotic relationship and experimented with ways to securely store payment info, exchange credentials and authenticate identity with biometrics – using a PC to make a theoretical purchase of a game on the Microsoft Store as a trial.

Microsoft’s double role as merchant and tech company gave Mastercard engineers a better understanding of the challenges both stakeholders face, says Mohamed Abouelenin, Mastercard’s director of product development and innovation.

“That helped us push the bar in developing new services to help provide the best experience for consumers,” Abouelenin says.

It was the first time Mastercard had participated in another company’s Hackathon. The experience energized both groups and left them wanting more.

“I saw a big difference in my team when they got back, in how they approach their jobs and have a more customer-oriented perception of things now,” says Anand Mallepally, Mastercard’s vice president of cyber and intelligence solutions, whose group is based in St. Louis. Physically being together in Redmond was “a gamechanger” for the engineers as far as seeing situations from each other’s perspectives, he says. “I can foresee more and more innovative ideas now.”

A hand holding a credit card with a chip over a payment machineThat’s crucial at a time when chips on credit cards are stopping more fraud, leading criminals increasingly to focus on online forums instead, says Mallepally, who’s been working on fraud prevention and digital platforms with Mastercard for more than 12 years.

His team has to tread carefully, however, acknowledging that security protocols can bring friction to the shopping experience. Shoppers are turned off when they have to remember passwords or go through extra verification steps; retailers sell less when transactions take extra time; and the banks that issue credit cards incur extra expenses when they have to develop and implement new safety measures. So it’s critical to consider enhancements to improve the consumer’s experience, along with additional protections.

The situation is complicated by a new regulation Europe implemented in September that requires banks to communicate with the customer for two-factor authentication before online purchases – even for recurring charges such as monthly bills for utilities or streaming services.

The bank might send a code to a credit card customer’s mobile phone or email address, for example, and the customer has to type that in on the checkout screen before a purchase can proceed. That’s expected to reduce fraud but increase friction. It’s also expected to be adopted by other markets around the world, including the U.S., in coming years.

index finger resting on phone screenBut biometric authentication on mobile devices – such as a fingerprint scanner – has been approved to allow consumers to skip that step.

That got Microsoft’s White to thinking.

“How do we level the playing field between the mobile checkout experience and the PC checkout experience?” he wondered. “And why can’t we make e-commerce payments as fast and simple as we have in the physical world, where you tap or insert a card and you’re done?”

The Hackathon teams found an answer to both, with an extra measure of innovation thrown in.

They decided to leverage the infrastructure Microsoft already has with its Windows Hello technology, which allows 900 million Windows 10 users to access their devices with a fingerprint or facial recognition, instead of a password. Through their combined efforts, they came up with a new feature that screens the user’s biometrics again and then, as long as they match the Windows Hello identification, automatically authenticates the buyer and approves purchases. The new service will give banks and merchants the assurance they’re dealing with actual customers, and shoppers won’t have to go through additional steps to prove themselves.

And the solution can be used across many types of computers, laptops and tablets, without requiring people to own or use a specific device, as the mobile-phone offerings do.

woman on couch holding credit card and looking at computer screen“It’s a solution that neither Mastercard nor Microsoft could have done on our own,” says Matt Rossmeissl, Microsoft’s general manager for commerce engineering operations. “We each had to bring our own expertise to the table to get this done. They’ve got the relationships with the banks, and we’ve got hundreds of millions of Windows devices out there.”

Biometric authentication is built to make online shopping easier for everyone, but it will be especially helpful for those with disabilities, says Priyanka Banerjee, a senior program manager under Rossmeissl. Entering a code for two-factor authentication is a difficult process for anyone who’s blind, for example, or can’t use their fingers to type, especially since those codes are time-limited and expire quickly. But biometric authentication removes that friction.

“Microsoft is very focused on inclusiveness and accessibility, and that’s something that hadn’t yet been thought of in this scenario” by financial services companies, Banerjee says. “What we have built can be extended to those with disabilities, with no extra setup required, and we can make the experience of everybody better.”

The collaborative process is also helping to bring the concept to market faster. The Hackathon engineers were able to accomplish in a few days together what would have taken a month or more apart, says Mallepally.

“We created a prototype in only a week’s time, and I think that will change the relationship between us and Mastercard going forward, because we’ll be more willing to try new things and go do growth hacking,” Microsoft’s Rossmeissl says. “We have at least 10 conversations in parallel going on with Mastercard now.

“If you approach a challenge with an open mind and go into it thinking that what we produce will be better if we work together and leverage our unique independent strengths, we’ll find solutions to problems that could be far better than what we could have done if we’d tried to solve them ourselves.”

All photos provided by Mastercard.

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Author: Steve Clarke

Experts on demand: Your direct line to Microsoft security insight, guidance, and expertise – Microsoft Security

Microsoft Threat Experts is the managed threat hunting service within Microsoft Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) that includes two capabilities: targeted attack notifications and experts on demand.

Today, we are extremely excited to share that experts on demand is now generally available and gives customers direct access to real-life Microsoft threat analysts to help with their security investigations.

With experts on demand, Microsoft Defender ATP customers can engage directly with Microsoft security analysts to get guidance and insights needed to better understand, prevent, and respond to complex threats in their environments. This capability was shaped through partnership with multiple customers across various verticals by investigating and helping mitigate real-world attacks. From deep investigation of machines that customers had a security concern about, to threat intelligence questions related to anticipated adversaries, experts on demand extends and supports security operations teams.

The other Microsoft Threat Experts capability, targeted attack notifications, delivers alerts that are tailored to organizations and provides as much information as can be quickly delivered to bring attention to critical threats in their network, including the timeline, scope of breach, and the methods of intrusion. Together, the two capabilities make Microsoft Threat Experts a comprehensive managed threat hunting solution that provides an additional layer of expertise and optics for security operations teams.

Experts on the case

By design, the Microsoft Threat Experts service has as many use cases as there are unique organizations with unique security scenarios and requirements. One particular case showed how an alert in Microsoft Defender ATP led to informed customer response, aided by a targeted attack notification that progressed to an experts on demand inquiry, resulting in the customer fully remediating the incident and improving their security posture.

In this case, Microsoft Defender ATP endpoint protection capabilities recognized a new malicious file in a single machine within an organization. The organization’s security operations center (SOC) promptly investigated the alert and developed the suspicion it may indicate a new campaign from an advanced adversary specifically targeting them.

Microsoft Threat Experts, who are constantly hunting on behalf of this customer, had independently spotted and investigated the malicious behaviors associated with the attack. With knowledge about the adversaries behind the attack and their motivation, Microsoft Threat Experts sent the organization a bespoke targeted attack notification, which provided additional information and context, including the fact that the file was related to an app that was targeted in a documented cyberattack.

To create a fully informed path to mitigation, experts pointed to information about the scope of compromise, relevant indicators of compromise, and a timeline of observed events, which showed that the file executed on the affected machine and proceeded to drop additional files. One of these files attempted to connect to a command-and-control server, which could have given the attackers direct access to the organization’s network and sensitive data. Microsoft Threat Experts recommended full investigation of the compromised machine, as well as the rest of the network for related indicators of attack.

Based on the targeted attack notification, the organization opened an experts on demand investigation, which allowed the SOC to have a line of communication and consultation with Microsoft Threat Experts. Microsoft Threat Experts were able to immediately confirm the attacker attribution the SOC had suspected. Using Microsoft Defender ATP’s rich optics and capabilities, coupled with intelligence on the threat actor, experts on demand validated that there were no signs of second-stage malware or further compromise within the organization. Since, over time, Microsoft Threat Experts had developed an understanding of this organization’s security posture, they were able to share that the initial malware infection was the result of a weak security control: allowing users to exercise unrestricted local administrator privilege.

Experts on demand in the current cybersecurity climate

On a daily basis, organizations have to fend off the onslaught of increasingly sophisticated attacks that present unique security challenges in security: supply chain attacks, highly targeted campaigns, hands-on-keyboard attacks. With Microsoft Threat Experts, customers can work with Microsoft to augment their security operations capabilities and increase confidence in investigating and responding to security incidents.

Now that experts on demand is generally available, Microsoft Defender ATP customers have an even richer way of tapping into Microsoft’s security experts and get access to skills, experience, and intelligence necessary to face adversaries.

Experts on demand provide insights into attacks, technical guidance on next steps, and advice on risk and protection. Experts can be engaged directly from within the Windows Defender Security Center, so they are part of the existing security operations experience:

We are happy to bring experts on demand within reach of all Microsoft Defender ATP customers. Start your 90-day free trial via the Microsoft Defender Security Center today.

Learn more about Microsoft Defender ATP’s managed threat hunting service here: Announcing Microsoft Threat Experts.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Purchase an Xbox One with Xbox All Access for No Upfront Cost; Special Upgrade Offer Available for a Limited Time – Xbox Wire

At Xbox we believe strongly in choice.  Choice in what, where and how you play, in addition to where and how you buy.  It’s with that that we’re thrilled to reintroduce Xbox All Access to more players around the world starting with the U.S., U.K. and Australia— and now including an all-new upgrade option for the next Xbox console, Project Scarlett.

With Xbox All Access, you get an all-inclusive Xbox experience with everything you need to start playing right out of the box for as little as $19.99 per month for 24 months (US pricing). The program is a great choice for players who want flexibility in their purchasing options and are looking for the best value in gaming. When joining Xbox All Access, you get:

  • Xbox One console
  • 24-month membership to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
    • Xbox Pass Ultimate includes all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold, including online multiplayer, and access to over 100 great games on console and PC.
  • Option to upgrade to Project Scarlett once its available in Holiday 2020

While Xbox All Access isn’t eligible to be stacked with any other discounts or limited time promotions, the price you pay per month is dependent upon which console you choose and saves players over $100 dollars compared to purchasing everything separately.

Here’s how it works in four easy steps:

  • In order to join the program, simply visit a participating retailer.
  • Select the console you would like to purchase with no upfront cost.^
  • Qualify with our financing partner (Citizens Bank in the U.S.; Klarna in the U.K.; Telstra in Australia). Once approved, complete your purchase with the retailer.
  • Once you’ve signed up and brought your console home, it’s time to power up and game on.

Xbox All Access will be available beginning on October 29 in Australia, November 5 in the U.K. and November 18 in the U.S. through select partners and retailers, including:

Some program details vary by country. Please visit country specific links to learn more.

Players in the U.S. and U.K. who purchase an Xbox One console with Xbox All Access have the option to upgrade to Project Scarlett once it’s available Holiday 2020 and they’ve made 18 payments.  Players in Australia can buyout their hardware at any time and upgrade to Project Scarlett once it’s available.

We realize buying a console is an investment and some players are waiting to make the jump to the next generation with Project Scarlett when it launches in Holiday 2020 alongside “Halo Infinite”.  This is why as a limited time offer this holiday season, players in the U.S. and U.K. who purchase an Xbox One X with Xbox All Access through December 31, 2019, have the option to upgrade to the next Xbox console in as few as 12 months and once Project Scarlett has officially launched.

In order to participate in the upgrade program when Project Scarlett launches in Holiday 2020,  players in the U.S. and U.K. will need to be in good standing with the respective financing partner in their market, purchase Project Scarlett with a new Xbox All Access purchase from the same retail partner where they joined the program, and trade-in the console originally purchased with Xbox All Access. Terms and conditions apply, including an upgrade fee for players upgrading from the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition to Project Scarlett.

As always, we’re grateful to our fans for their support and look forward to bringing Xbox All Access to more players around the world in the coming months.

To find out more about Xbox All Access, including how to join, what consoles are available for purchase, your upgrade option, and terms and conditions, please click here in the US, here in the United Kingdom and here in Australia, or visit your local retail partner.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Microsoft announces new capabilities for a seamless, smart and secure IoT world – Stories

New solutions deliver IoT innovations from cloud to edge

REDMOND, Wash. — Oct. 28, 2019 — Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced new capabilities that further simplify the customer journey and deliver highly secured IoT solutions. These solutions help customers embrace IoT as a core strategy to drive better business outcomes, improve safety and address social issues by predicting and preventing equipment failures, optimizing smart buildings for space utilization and energy management, improving patient outcomes and worker safety, tracking assets across a supply chain, and more.

The proliferation of IoT devices is enabling companies to bring cloud intelligence to the edge, to create solutions that are adaptive and responsive to their environments. According to IDC,1 41.6 billion devices — including smartphones, smart home assistants and smart appliances — will be connected to the internet by 2025. Even sooner, by 2021, 94% of businesses surveyed will be using IoT, according to a recent Microsoft IoT Signals research report and, in nearly every case (97%), those companies are concerned about potential security risks.

“At Microsoft, we are committed to building a trusted, easy-to-use platform that allows our customers and partners to build seamless, smart, secure solutions regardless of where they are in the IoT journey,” said Sam George, CVP of Azure IoT at Microsoft. “That’s why we are investing $5B in IoT and intelligent edge — technology that is accelerating ubiquitous computing and bringing unparalleled opportunity across industries.”

Delivering new IoT innovations from cloud to edge

Our core focus is addressing the challenge of securing connected devices at every layer while advancing IoT to create a seamless experience between the physical and digital worlds. In the past year, we launched more than 100 new services and features that make IoT solutions more secure and scalable, reduce complexity, and create opportunities in new market areas.

Making IoT seamless

IoT Central is a fully managed IoT app platform that provides solution builders with built-in security, scale and extensibility needed to develop enterprise-grade IoT solutions. New features to IoT Central simplify challenges of building and deploying scalable and affordable enterprise applications:

  • 11 new industry-focused application templates to accelerate solution builders across retail, healthcare, government and energy.
  • API support for extending IoT Central or integrating it with other solutions, including API support for device modelling, provisioning, lifecycle management, operations and data querying.
  • IoT Edge support, including management for edge devices and IoT Edge module deployments, which enable customers to deploy cloud workloads, including AI, directly to connected devices.
  • IoT Plug and Play support, for rapid device development and connectivity.
  • The ability to Save & Load applications to enable application reusability.
  • More Data Export options for continually exporting data to other Azure PaaS services, such as storage for rich analytics.
  • Multitenancy support for building and managing a single application with multiple tenants, each with their own isolated data, devices, users and roles. And updates to that single application are visible to all tenants for easy manageability.
  • Custom user roles for fine-grained access control to data, actions and configurations in the system.
  • New pricing model for early 2020, designed to help customers and partners have predictable pricing as usage scales.

Making IoT smarter

Azure IoT Hub helps enterprise developers reduce costs and optimize operations through IoT cloud applications. New capabilities with IoT Hub message enrichment add the ability to stamp messages coming from devices with rich information before they are sent to downstream cloud services, making integration easy. IoT Hub integrates with Azure Event Grid, making it easy to consume IoT Hub device messages from an even broader variety of downstream services.

Azure Maps customers can add geospatial weather intelligence into their applications to enable scenarios like weather-based routing, weather-based targeted marketing and weather-based operations optimization, in partnership with AccuWeather. Azure Maps will now be available on Gov Cloud, simplifying the onboarding process for customers.

Azure Time Series Insights is announcing new preview capabilities including:

  • Multilayered storage provides the best of both worlds: lightning fast access to frequently used data (“warm data”) and fast access to infrequently used historical data (“cold data”).
  • Flexible cold storage: Historical data is stored in a customer’s own Azure Storage account, giving customers complete control of their IoT data. Data is stored in open source Apache Parquet format, enabling predictive analytics, machine learning and other custom computations using familiar technologies including Spark, Databricks and Jupyter.
  • Rich analytics: Rich query APIs and user experience support interpolation, new scalar and aggregate functions, categorical variables, scatter plots, and time shifting between time series signals for in-depth analysis.
  • Enterprise-grade scale: Scale and performance improvements at all layers, including ingestion, storage, query and metadata/model.
  • Extensibility and integration: New Time Series Insights Power BI connector allows customers to take queries from Time Series Insights into Power BI to get a unified view in a single pane of glass.

Through our Express Logic acquisition, Azure RTOS continues to enable new intelligent capabilities. It unlocks access to billions of new connected endpoints and grows the number of devices that can seamlessly connect to Azure. Renesas is a top microcontroller unit (MCU) manufacturer that shares our vision of making IoT development as easy and seamless as possible, and we are excited to announce that Azure RTOS will be broadly available across Renesas’ products, including the Synergy and RA MCU families. It is already integrated into the Renesas Synergy Software Package and will be integrated out of box with the Renesas RA Flexible Software Package.

Making IoT more secure

We have added new features to Azure Security Center for IoT with the announcement of a Security Partner program and support for national clouds, and we are excited to announce the upcoming general availability of Azure Sphere in February 2020.

Enabling a future of intelligent and secure computing at the edge for organizations, enterprises and consumers will require advances in computer architecture all the way down to the chip level, with security built in from the beginning. Microsoft Azure Sphere is taking a holistic approach to securing the intelligent edge and IoT from the silicon to the cloud in a way that gives customers flexibility and control. For example, Qualcomm recently announced a partnership with Microsoft to develop mobile hardware for Microsoft’s Azure Sphere IoT operating system.

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.

1 IDC, Worldwide Global DataSphere IoT Device and Data Forecast, 2019–2023, Doc # US45066919, May 2019

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications, (425) 638-7777, [email protected]

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://news.microsoft.com. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed at http://news.microsoft.com/microsoft-public-relations-contacts.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

IoT security will set innovation free: Azure Sphere general availability scheduled for February 2020

Today, at the IoT Solutions World Congress, we announced that Azure Sphere will be generally available in February of 2020. General availability will mark our readiness to fulfill our security promise at scale, and to put the power of Microsoft’s expertise to work for our customers every day—by delivering over a decade of ongoing security improvements and OS updates delivered directly to each device.

Since we first introduced Azure Sphere in 2018, the IoT landscape has quickly expanded. Today, there are more connected things than people in the world: 14.2 billion in 2019, according to Gartner, and this number is expected to hit 20 billion by 2020. Although this number appears large, we expect IoT adoption to accelerate to provide connectivity to hundreds of billions of devices. This massive growth will only increase the stakes for devices that are not secured.

Recent research by Bain & Co. lists security as the leading barrier to IoT adoption. In fact, enterprise customers would buy at least 70 percent more IoT devices if a product addresses their concerns about cybersecurity. According to Bain & Co., enterprise executives, with an innate understanding of the risk that connectivity opens their brands and customers to, are willing to pay a 22 percent premium for secured devices.

Azure Sphere’s mission is to empower every organization on the planet to connect and create secured and trustworthy IoT devices. We believe that for innovation to deliver durable value, it must be built on a foundation of security. Our customers need and expect reliable, consistent security that will set innovation free. To deliver on this, we’ve made several strategic investments and partnerships that make it possible to meet our customers wherever they are on their IoT journey.

Delivering silicon choice to enable heterogeneity at the edge

By partnering with silicon leaders, we can combine our expertise in security with their unique capabilities to best serve a diverse set of customer needs.

MediaTek’s MT3620, the first Azure Sphere certified chip produced, is designed to meet the needs of the more traditional MCU space, including Wi-Fi-enabled scenarios. Today, our customers across industries are adopting the MT3620 to design and produce everything from consumer appliances to retail and manufacturing equipment—these chips are also being used to power a series of guardian modules to securely connect and protect mission-critical equipment.

In June, we announced our collaboration with NXP to deliver a new Azure Sphere certified chip. This new chip will be an extension of their popular i.MX 8 high-performance applications processor series and be optimized for performance and power. This will bring greater compute capabilities to our line-up to support advanced workloads, including artificial intelligence (AI), graphics, and richer UI experiences.

Earlier this month, we announced our collaboration with Qualcomm to deliver the first cellular-enabled Azure Sphere chip. With ultra-low-power capabilities this new chip will light up a broad new set of scenarios and give our customers the freedom to securely connect anytime, anywhere.

Streamlining prototyping and production with a diverse hardware ecosystem

Manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce cost, complexity, and time to market when designing new devices and equipment. Azure Sphere development kits from our partners at Seeed Studios and Avnet are designed to streamline the prototyping and planning when building Azure Sphere devices. When you’re ready to shift gears into production mode, there are a variety of modules by partners including AI-Link, USI, and Avnet to help you reduce costs and accelerate production so you can get to market faster.

Adding secured connectivity to existing mission-critical equipment

Many enterprises are looking to unlock new value from existing equipment through connectivity. Guardian modules are designed to help our customers quickly bring their existing investments online without taking on risk and jeopardizing mission-critical equipment. Guardian modules plug into existing physical interfaces on equipment, can be easily deployed with common technical skillsets, and require no device redesign. The deployment is fast, does not require equipment to be replaced before its end of life, and quickly pays for itself. The first guardian modules are available today from Avnet and AI-Link, with more expected soon.

Empowering developers with the right tools

Developers need tools that are as modern as the experiences they aspire to deliver. In September of 2018, we released our SDK preview for Visual Studio. Since then, we’ve continued to iterate rapidly, making it quicker and simpler to develop, deploy, and debug Azure Sphere apps. We also built out a set of samples and solutions on GitHub, providing easy building blocks for developers to get started. And, as we shared recently, we’ll soon have an SDK for Linux and support for Visual Studio Code. By empowering their developers, we help manufacturers bring innovation to market faster.

Creating a secure environment for running an RTOS or bare-metal code

As manufacturers transform MCU-powered devices by adding connectivity, they want to leverage existing code running on an RTOS or bare-metal. Earlier this year, we provided a secured environment for this code by enabling the M4 core processors embedded in the MediaTek MT3620 chip. Code running on these real-time cores is programmed and debugged using Visual Studio. Using these tools, such code can easily be enhanced to send and receive data via the protection of a partner app running on the Azure Sphere OS, and it can be updated seamlessly in the field to add features or to address issues. Now, manufacturers can confidently secure and service their connected devices, while leveraging existing code for real-time processing operations.

Delivering customer success

Deep partnerships with early customers have helped us understand how IoT can be implemented to propel business, and the critical role security plays in protecting their bottom line, brand, and end users. Today, we’re working with hundreds of customers who are planning Azure Sphere deployments, here are a few highlights from across retail, healthcare, and energy:

  • Starbucks—In-store equipment is the backbone of not just commerce, but their entire customer experience. To reduce disruptions and maintain a quality experience, Starbucks is partnering with Microsoft to deploy Azure Sphere across its existing mission-critical equipment in stores globally using guardian modules.
  • Gojo—Gojo Industries, the inventor of PURELL Hand Sanitizer, has been driving innovation to improve hygiene compliance in health organizations. Deploying motion detectors and connected PURELL dispensers in healthcare facilities made it possible to quantify hand cleaning behavior in a way that made it possible to implement better practices. Now, PURELL SMARTLINK Technology is undergoing an upgrade with Azure Sphere to deploy secure and connected dispensers in hospitals.
  • Leoni—Leoni develops cable systems that are central components within critical application fields that manage energy and data for the automotive sector and other industries. To make cable systems safer, more reliable, and smarter, Leoni uses Azure Sphere with integrated sensors to actively monitor cable conditions, creating intelligent and connected cable systems.

Looking forward

We want to empower every organization on the planet to connect and create secure and trustworthy IoT devices. While Azure Sphere leverages deep and extensive Microsoft heritage that spans hardware, software, cloud, and security, IoT is our opportunity to prove we can deliver in a new space. Our work, our collaborations, and our partnerships are evidence of the commitment we’ve made to our customers—to give them the tools and confidence to transform the world with new experiences. As we close in on the milestone achievement of Azure Sphere general availability, we are already focused on how to give our customers greater opportunities to securely shape the future.

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Author: Microsoft News Center