Microsoft Is Building AI Supercomputer On Azure Cloud Platform

By Victor Thomson , Oct 06, 2016 02:54 AM EDT

At an event in Dublin, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced that the company's Azure Cloud will become the first artificial intelligence supercomputer.

Microsoft Azure A.I. Supercomputer

Microsoft explained on the company's website how its Azure cloud computing offering will bring a new wave of apps based on AI technologies. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are defining the next generation applications powered by the cloud. Following this emerging trend, Microsoft is building the first AI supercomputer on its Azure cloud platform.

According to ZDNet, in order to achieve this goal, Microsoft is going beyond the traditional CPU architecture, building cloud processing power based on GPUs. GPUs can be scaled so that banks of GPUs can process tasks in parallel, so they best fitted for dealing with high workloads. The traditional approach of using individual machines with ever faster CPUs is reaching its limits.

Nadella said that GPUs are much better at scale and performance for algorithms used in deep neural nets and machine learning. He also explained that every compute node across all regions of Azure features FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays). These FPGAs allow developers to write distribute and run neural network code.

Artificial intelligence apps can look simple on the user side, but they require at the back end a huge amount of processing power. On top of this AI-oriented architecture on the Azure cloud platform, Microsoft is offering higher level AI services such as APIs to connect to object, image, speech recognition and natural language processing services.

Other big cloud vendors aim to position themselves as having the best platform for these compute intensive and high profile workloads. For instance, last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced an update to its GPU-powered cloud platform, catering to applications such as seismic analysis, artificial intelligence, genomics, molecular modeling and other apps that require large amouints of parallel processing power.

Microsoft has been promoting its own AI projects as well, from Dynamics 365 for Sales to Office 365 and digital personal assistant Cortana. The high-tech company also announced that sometime next year it will start offering Azure Cloud from French data centers.

According to HPC Wire, Microsoft formed a new research group focused on its Azure cloud platform with the aim of helping to deliver new capabilities across services, applications and infrastructure. Harry Shum, a 20-year company veteran who worked on important projects such as the Bing search and Cortana intelligence personal assistant, would manage the A.I. initiative. 

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