In 2002, Microsoft chief Bill Gates sent out the Trustworthy Computing memo to staff. Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, had his Trustworthy Computing moment this week, with the company’s data strategy.
Microsoft’s core data product is the new SQL Sever 2014 relational database server, but it has bigger ambitions beyond SQL Server, from both a product perspective and within the company itself.
Nadella said: "We have a data culture within Microsoft. We need to learn from our customers and continuously improve our products and services."
He said data was the lifeblood of Microsoft, and that all its engineers would be looking at usage data every day to learn how customers use its products.
This data enables the engineers to test new ideas and drive a product improvement cycle.
From a product perspective, Nadella said Microsoft was developing a data platform that would work in a mobile-first, cloud-first world. "The data platform is very central to our strategy going forward," he said.
Such a platform is needed to handle the different forms of data produced in modern IT. Nadella described this as a constant data exhaust, such as logs from servers, social stream and transactional data. Such data can be processed to provide new insights and fuel what Nadella described as "ambient intelligence".
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Ambient intelligence starts with everyone in an organisation having questions and testing out hypotheses, gaining insights and taking actions.
Microsoft’s data platform starts with SQL Server, which represents a $5bn business. Microsoft also plans to provide the same technology fabric across SQL and Hadoop to enable queries to span across structured and unstructured data sets.
On the client side, Nadella wants Excel to become the ubiquitous tool enabling people to analyse data. He said Microsoft planned to take an architectural approach, bringing together different products with Excel at one end and SQL Server and Hadoop at the other end to create a cohesive architecture for ambient intelligence.
Microsoft’s goal is to make the whole of its Office suite data-aware. So within a PowerPoint presentation or an Excel spreadsheet, the user will have constant access to data to run complex queries. "We will transform Office into the user interface for data," Nadella said.
Microsoft is also providing developer APIs to integrate Hadoop and SQL Server in SQL Server 2014, the latest update to its relational database server. Nadella said Microsoft had developed the systems to handle NoSQL and SQL databases and support MapReduce processing on real-time data streaming.
SQL Server 2014 database also offers in-memory computing across all workloads, Nadella said. It provides a compressed in-memory columnar database for OLTP workloads and an in-memory data warehouse.
He said Microsoft had developed an analytic platform system that combines a parallel data warehouse of SQL Server and Hadoop in one appliance, using a new Microsoft technology called PolyBase, which enables SQL queries to span Hadoop and regular SQL Server.
Microsoft is also developing the Azure Intelligence System Service, which Nadella said can be used to analyse internet-of-things data in the cloud.