Microsoft Ignite: Full Stack AI

November 15, 2023 / Ben Bajarin

At Ignite today, Microsoft unveils transformative AI advances across industries with next-gen cloud infrastructure and expanded copilot capabilities.

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft’s Work Index report further confirms the significant productivity gains achieved with Copilot and AI software
  • Microsoft is doubling down on Azure platform differentiation with custom-optimized silicon for Azure
  • Azure AI – Models as a Service
  • Copilot everywhere
  • Greater developer choice with expanded Azure AI model catalog, including Llama 2
  • Microsoft Fabric launched as a single AI platform for enterprise data management.


Microsoft Custom Silicon

In many industry presentations I give on the semiconductor industry, I’m keen on saying that those who are serious about platforms need to be serious about silicon. It’s a take on Alan Kay’s quote about those being serious about software need to be serious about hardware. What Alan Kay and, subsequently, Steve Jobs recognized was the unique and tight integration of software and hardware led to highly differentiated experiences. I maintain that those who can also tightly integrate and tune silicon to those software experiences will be the platform leaders of the future.

Microsoft unveiled what I’m sure will be the first of a roadmap of custom silicon products.  Today, they announced Cobalt and Arm CPU for Azure and Maia and AI accelerator optimized and purpose-built for AI workloads. A few observations on this are important to call out.

Cobalt, Microsoft’s 128-core Arm-CPU for Azure, validates the continued opportunity the Arm architecture has in the data center. Microsoft positions this product very similar to Ampere with their Arm CPU around cloud-native workloads.  Cloud-native applications are not the only data center workloads the Arm architecture will gain inroads, but for now, it is the most obvious given the benefits of cost and performance per watt.

Another important point here is while Microsoft is an Arm architecture licensee, they are using the Arm Neoverse CSS platform rather than going down the road of a fully custom ISA for their Arm strategy. This further validates Arm’s platform approach to IP and its appeal to companies as they desire to develop more custom silicon but put their engineering resources toward their differentiation.

The other piece of silicon Microsoft announced is Maia, which is a custom ASIC purpose-built for AI workloads. Maia is particularly interesting in the vein of where Microsoft can truly differentiate here from the competition. Maia is purpose-built to accelerate internal workloads running on Azure. Microsoft’s efforts in software, namely around Copilot, Office 364, and Windows, are likely key beneficiaries of this full-stack approach. When it comes to AI, purpose-built and fully optimized solutions are going to yield customer benefits in nearly every vector that matters. This move is significant as Microsoft can now optimize all layers of the stack for customers and developers. Maia, tied directly to accelerate all of Microsoft’s efforts to enable Copilot everwhere, is a key enabler and differentiator.

The battle here is for the future of AI developers. These moves only increase Microsoft’s competitive advantage to appeal to the future of AI software development.

Relevant Stats from Microsoft Work Index
Our discussions with decision makers evaluate the ROI on their AI investments for their organization. Quantifying the value is going to be critical for CIOs and IT decision-makers to justify the increased investment needed to manage and deploy AI.  These stats from Microsoft’s Work Index are promising.

Work Trends Index. We’ll unveil findings from research we conducted that demonstrate the impact – and productivity gains – Copilot for Microsoft 365 is having. Key findings include:

  • 70% of Copilot users said they were more productive and 68% said it improved the quality of their work; 68% say it helped jumpstart the creative process.
  • Overall, users were 29% faster at specific tasks (searching, writing and summarizing).
  • Users caught up on a missed meeting nearly 4x faster.
  • 64% of users said Copilot helps them spend less time processing email.
  • 87% of users said Copilot makes it easier to get started on a first draft.
  • 75% of users said Copilot “saves me time by finding whatever I need in my files.”
  • 77% of users said once they use Copilot, they don’t want to give it up.

Full Stack AI
Most importantly, Microsoft’s news from Ignite shows the dramatic shift to a full-stack AI company. Given Microsoft’s total solution/systems approach, it is clear how well-positioned the company is to leverage their deep expertise and close relationship with enterprises large and small, as well as attract new platform developers in the age of AI. 

Copilot everywhere and in everything Microsoft offers in the stack is a key differentiator for the company and their customers on the Azure cloud but also the billions engaging with Microsoft software on a daily basis.

We are in the early stages of this radical transformation around productivity and the future of software development, but Microsoft is leading this transformation in many ways and is set up to reap the benefits.

Models as a Service

We think it is important to not miss the Azure AI models as a service offering. We know more businesses are looking to fine-tune their own models and train them on their proprietary data.  This Azure AI offering and models as a service is key in meeting the needs of organizations large and small.  We expect many organizations to take this approach as they pilot AI projects over the next year and look to quantify the productivity gains achieved by their organization’s verticals.

Summary of Copilot News:

Microsoft Copilot for Microsoft 365: Now generally available with over 1,000 customers, featuring new personalization capabilities for user-preference tailored responses and role. It includes features for Outlook to prep for meetings and for Teams to aid with whiteboarding and note-taking during meetings, without requiring transcription retention.

Microsoft Copilot Studio: A low-code customization tool for Microsoft 365, enabling integration with business data and building customized copilots using connectors, plugins, and GPTs.

Microsoft Copilot for Service: Aims to accelerate AI transformation by providing role-based support and extending contact center capabilities.

Copilot in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides: Assists frontline workers with complex tasks and issues resolution without interrupting their workflow.

Microsoft Copilot for Azure: An AI tool designed to ease daily IT administration tasks.

Wider Access to Copilot: Bing Chat and Bing Chat Enterprise are being renamed to Copilot, with commercial data protection benefits for Microsoft Entra ID users, set to become generally available on Dec. 1 at no extra cost.

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