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Azure Media Services unveils new AI-powered innovations at IBC 2019

Animated character recognition, multilingual speech transcription and more now available

At Microsoft, our mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. The media industry exemplifies this mission. We live in an age where more content is being created and consumed in more ways and on more devices than ever. At IBC 2019, we’re delighted to share the latest innovations we’ve been working on and how they can help transform your media workflows. Read on to learn more, or join our product teams and partners at Hall 1 Booth C27 at the RAI in Amsterdam from September 13th to 17th.

Video Indexer adds support for animation and multilingual content

We made our award winning Azure Media Services Video Indexer generally available at IBC last year, and this year it’s getting even better. Video Indexer automatically extracts insights and metadata such as spoken words, faces, emotions, topics and brands from media files, without you needing to be a machine learning expert. Our latest announcements include previews for two highly requested and differentiated capabilities for animated character recognition and multilingual speech transcription, as well as several additions to existing models available today in Video Indexer.

Animated character recognition

Animated content or cartoons are one of the most popular content types, but standard AI vision models built for human faces do not work well with them, especially if the content has characters without human features. In this new preview solution, Video Indexer joins forces with Microsoft’s Azure Custom Vision service to provide a new set of models that automatically detect and group animated characters and allow customers to then tag and recognize them easily via integrated custom vision models. These models are integrated into a single pipeline, which allows anyone to use the service without any previous machine learning skills. The results are available through the no-code Video Indexer portal or the REST API for easy integration into your own applications.

Image of the AMS Video Indexer recognizing animated characters.

We built these animated character models in collaboration with select customers who contributed real animated content for training and testing. The value of the new functionality is well articulated by Andy Gutteridge, Senior Director, Studio & Post-Production Technology at Viacom International Media Networks, which was one of the data contributors: “The addition of reliable AI-based animated detection will enable us to discover and catalogue character metadata from our content library quickly and efficiently. Most importantly, it will give our creative teams the power to find the content they want instantly, minimize time spent on media management and allow them to focus on the creative.”

To get started with animated character recognition, please visit our documentation page.

Multilingual identification and transcription

Some media assets like news, current affairs, and interviews contain audio with speakers using different languages. Most existing speech-to-text capabilities require the audio recognition language to be specified in advance, which is an obstacle to transcribing multilingual videos. Our new automatic spoken language identification for multiple content feature leverages machine learning technology to identify the different languages used in a media asset. Once detected, each language segment undergoes an automatic transcription process in the language identified, and all segments are integrated back together into one transcription file consisting of multiple languages.

An image of the Video Indexer screen, showing multilingual transcription.
The resulting transcription is available both as part of Video Indexer JSON output and as closed-caption files. The output transcript is also integrated with Azure Search, allowing you to immediately search across videos for the different language segments. Furthermore, the multi-language transcription is available as part of the Video Indexer portal experience so you can view the transcript and identified language by time, or jump to the specific places in the video for each language and see the multi-language transcription as captions as a video is played. You can also translate the output back-and-forth into 54 different languages via the portal and API.

Read more about the new multilingual option and how to use it in Video Indexer in our documentation.

Additional updated and improved models

We are also adding new and improving existing models within Video Indexer, including:

Extraction of people and locations entities

We’ve extended our current brand detection capabilities to also incorporate well-known names and locations, such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. When these appear in the generated transcript or on-screen via optical character recognition (OCR), a specific insight is created. With this new capability, you can review and search by all people, locations and brands that appeared in the video, along with their timeframes, description, and a link to our Bing search engine for more information.

 Azure Video Indexer entity extraction in the insight pane.

Editorial shot detection model

This new feature adds a set of “tags” in the metadata attached to an individual shot in the insights JSON to represent its editorial type (such as wide shot, medium shot, close up, extreme close up, two shot, multiple people, outdoor and indoor, etc.). These shot-type characteristics come in handy when editing videos into clips and trailers as well as when searching for a specific style of shots for artistic purposes.

Azure Video Indexer editorial shot type example.
Explore and read more about editorial shot type detection in Video Indexer.

Expanded granularity of IPTC mapping

Our topic inferencing model determines the topic of videos based on transcription, optical character recognition (OCR), and detected celebrities even if the topic is not explicitly stated. We map these inferred topics to four different taxonomies: Wikipedia, Bing, IPTC, and IAB. With this enhancement, we now include level-2 IPTC taxonomy.

Tanking advantage of these enhancements is as easy as re-indexing your current Video Indexer library.

New live streaming functionality

We are also introducing two new live-streaming capabilities in preview to Azure Media Services.

Live transcription supercharges your live events with AI

Using Azure Media Services to stream a live event, you can now get an output stream that includes an automatically generated text track in addition to the video and audio content. This text track is created using AI-based live transcription of the audio of the contribution feed. Custom methods are applied before and after speech-to-text conversion in order to improve the end-user experience. The text track is packaged into IMSC1, TTML, or WebVTT, depending on whether you are delivering in DASH, HLS CMAF, or HLS TS.

Live linear encoding for 24/7 over-the-top (OTT) channels

Using our v3 APIs, you can create, manage, and stream live channels for OTT services and take advantage of all the other features of Azure Media Services like live to video on demand (VOD), packaging, and digital rights management (DRM).

To try these preview features, please visit the Azure Media Services Community page.

An image showing live transcription signal flow.

New packaging features

Support for audio description tracks

Broadcast content frequently has an audio track that contains verbal explanations of on-screen action in addition to the normal program audio. This makes programming more accessible for vision-impaired viewers, especially if the content is highly visual. The new audio description feature enables a customer to annotate one of the audio tracks to be the audio description (AD) track, which in turn can be used by players to make the AD track discoverable by viewers.

ID3 metadata insertion

In order to signal the insertion of advertisements or custom metadata events on a client player, broadcasters often make use of timed metadata embedded within the video. In addition to SCTE-35 signaling modes, we now also support ID3v2 or other custom schemas defined by an application developer for use by the client application.

Microsoft Azure partners demonstrate end-to-end solutions

Bitmovin is debuting its Bitmovin Video Encoding and Bitmovin Video Player on Microsoft Azure. Customers can now use these encoding and player solutions on Azure and leverage advanced functionality such as 3-pass encoding, AV1/VVC codec support, multi-language closed captions, and pre-integrated video analytics for QoS, ad, and video tracking.

Evergent is showing its User Lifecycle Management Platform on Azure. As a leading provider of revenue and customer lifecycle management solutions, Evergent leverages Azure AI to enable premium entertainment service providers to improve customer acquisition and retention by generating targeted packages and offers at critical points in the customer lifecycle.

Haivision will showcase its intelligent media routing cloud service, SRT Hub, that helps customers transform end-to-end workflows starting with ingest using Azure Data Box Edge and media workflow transformation using Hublets from Avid, Telestream, Wowza and Cinegy, and Make.tv.

SES has developed a suite of broadcast-grade media services on Azure for its satellite connectivity and managed media services customers. SES will show solutions for fully managed playout services, including master playout, localized playout and ad detection and replacement, and 24×7 high-quality multichannel live encoding on Azure.

SyncWords is making its caption automation technology and user-friendly cloud-based tools available on Azure. These offerings will make it easier for media organizations to add automated closed captioning and foreign language subtitling capabilities to their real-time and offline video processing workflows on Azure.
 
Global design and technology services company Tata Elxsi has integrated TEPlay, its OTT platform SaaS, with Azure Media Services to deliver OTT content from the cloud. Tata Elxsi has also brought FalconEye, its quality of experience (QoE) monitoring solution that focuses on actionable metrics and analytics, to Microsoft Azure.

Verizon Media is making its streaming platform available in beta on Azure. Verizon Media Platform is an enterprise-grade managed OTT solution including DRM, ad insertion, one-to-one personalized sessions, dynamic content replacement, and video delivery. The integration brings simplified workflows, global support and scale, and access to a range of unique capabilities available on Azure.

Many of our partners will also be presenting in the theater at our booth, so make sure you stop by to catch them!

Short distance, big impact

We are proud to support the 4K 4Charity Fun Run as a gold sponsor. This is a running and walking event held at various media industry events since 2014, and it raises awareness and financial support for non-profits focused on increased diversity and inclusion. Register and come join us on Saturday, September 14th, at 7:30am at the Amstelpark in Amsterdam.

Don’t miss out

There’s a lot more going on at the Microsoft booth this IBC. To learn more, read about how the community of our customers and partners are innovating on Azure in media and entertainment, or better yet come and join us in Hall 1 Booth C27. If you won’t be there, we’re sorry we’ll miss you, but you can try Video Indexer and Azure Media Services for yourself by following the links.

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Microsoft and The Walt Disney Studios to develop ‘scene-to-screen’ content workflows

Companies collaborate to pilot new ways to transform content workflows in the Microsoft Azure cloud; Microsoft becomes a Disney Studios StudioLAB innovation partner

REDMOND, Wash., and BURBANK, Calif. Sept. 13, 2019 Microsoft Corp. and The Walt Disney Studios today announced a five-year innovation partnership to pilot new ways to create, produce and distribute content on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Through The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB, a technology hub designed to create and advance the future of storytelling with cutting-edge tools and methods, the companies will deliver cloud-based solutions to help accelerate innovation at The Walt Disney Studios for production and postproduction processes, or from “scene to screen.”

The Walt Disney Studios’ StudioLAB logo“The cloud has reached a tipping point for the media industry, and it’s not surprising that The Walt Disney Studios, which has its heritage based on a passion for innovation and technology, is at the forefront of this transformation,” said Kate Johnson, president of Microsoft US. “The combination of Azure’s hyperscale capacity, global distribution, and industry-leading storage and networking capabilities with Disney’s strong history of industry leadership unlocks new opportunity in the media and entertainment space and will power new ways to drive content and creativity at scale. With Azure as the platform cloud for content, we’re excited to work with the team at StudioLAB to continue to drive innovation across Disney’s broad portfolio of studios.”

“By moving many of our production and postproduction workflows to the cloud, we’re optimistic that we can create content more quickly and efficiently around the world,” said Jamie Voris, CTO, The Walt Disney Studios. “Through this innovation partnership with Microsoft, we’re able to streamline many of our processes so our talented filmmakers can focus on what they do best.”

Microsoft and Disney — working closely with leading global media technology provider Avid — are already demonstrating that the kinds of demanding, high-performance workflows the media and entertainment industry requires can be deployed and operated with the security offered by the cloud, while unlocking substantial new benefits and efficiencies and enabling production teams to rethink the way they get their work done.

Microsoft logoBuilding on Microsoft’s strategic cloud alliance with Avid, the companies have already produced several essential media workflows running in the cloud today, including collaborative editing, content archiving, active backup and production continuity. Bringing these complex workflows into production using Avid solutions such as the Avid MediaCentral® platform, MediaCentral | Cloud UX™, Avid NEXIS® | Cloud storage and Avid Media Composer® — all running natively on Azure — will provide the foundation for helping transform content creation and content management to overcome today’s operational pressures, as well as pave the way for ongoing innovation.

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.

For more information, press only:

Microsoft Media Relations, WE Communications for Microsoft, (425) 638-7777, rrt@we-worldwide.com

The Walt Disney Studios Communications, angela.k.shaw@disney.com

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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Brendan Burns: Building cloud-native applications with Azure and HashiCorp

With each passing year, more and more developers are building cloud-native applications. As developers build more complex applications they are looking to innovators like Microsoft Azure and HashiCorp to reduce the complexity of building and operating these applications. HashiCorp and Azure have worked together on a myriad of innovations. Examples of this innovation include tools that connect cloud-native applications to legacy infrastructure and tools that secure and automate the continuous deployment of customer applications and infrastructure. Azure is deeply committed to being the best platform for open source software developers like HashiCorp to deliver their tools to their customers in an easy-to use, integrated way. Azure innovation like the managed applications platform that power HashiCorp’s Consul Service on Azure are great examples of this commitment to collaboration and a vibrant open source startup ecosystem. We’re also committed to the development of open standards that help these ecosystems move forward and we’re thrilled to have been able to collaborate with HashiCorp on both the CNAB (Cloud Native Application Bundle) and SMI (Service Mesh Interface) specifications.

Last year at HashiConf 2018, I had the opportunity to share how we had started to integrate Terraform and Packer into the Azure platform. I’m incredibly excited to get the opportunity to return this year to share how these integrations are progressing and to share a new collaboration on cloud native networking. With this new work we now have collaborations that help customers connect and operate their applications on Azure using HashiCorp technology.

Connect — HashiCorp Consul Service on Azure

After containers and Kubernetes, one of the most important innovations in microservices has been the development of the concept of a service mesh. Earlier this year we partnered with HashiCorp and others to announce the release of Service Mesh Interface, a collaborative, implementation agnostic API for the configuration and deployment of service mesh technology. We collaborated with HashiCorp to produce a control rules implementation of the traffic access control (TAC) using Consul Connect. Today we’re excited that Azure customers can take advantage of HashiCorp Consul Services on Azure powered by the Azure Managed Applications platform. HashiCorp Consul provides a solution to simplify and secure service networking and with this new managed offering, our joint customers can focus on the value of Consul while confident that the experts at HashiCorp are taking care of the management of the service. Reducing complexity for customers and enabling them to focus on cloud native innovation.

Provision — HashiCorp Terraform on Azure

HashiCorp Terraform is a great tool for doing declarative deployment to Azure. We’re seeing great momentum with adoption of HashiCorp Terraform on Azure as the number of customers has doubled since the beginning of the year – customers are using Terraform to automate Azure infrastructure deployment and operation in a variety of scenarios. 

The momentum is fantastic on the contribution front as well with nearly 180 unique contributors to the Terraform provider for Azure Resource Manager. The involvement from the community with our increased 3-week cadence of releases (currently at version 1.32) ensures more coverage of Azure services by Terraform. Additionally, after customer and community feedback regarding the need for additional Terraform modules for Azure, we’ve been working hard at adding high quality modules and now have doubled the number of Azure modules in the terraform registry, bringing it to over 120 modules. 

We believe all these additional integrations enable customers to manage infrastructure as code more easily and simplify managing their cloud environments. Learn more about Terraform on Azure.

Microsoft and HashiCorp are working together to provide integrated support for Terraform on Azure. Customers using Terraform on Microsoft’s Azure cloud are mutual customers, and both companies are united to provide troubleshooting and support services. This joint entitlement process provides collaborative support across companies and platforms while delivering a seamless customer experience. Customers using Terraform Provider for Azure can file support tickets to Microsoft support. Customers using Terraform on Azure support can file support tickets to Microsoft or HashiCorp.

Deploy — Collaborating on Cloud Native Application Bundles specification

One of the critical problems solved by containers is the hermetic packaging of a binary into a package that is easy to share and deploy around the world. But a cloud-native application is more than a binary, and this is what led to the co-development, with HashiCorp and others, of the Coud Native Application Bundle (CNAB) specification. CNABs  allow you to package images alongside configuration tools like Terraform and other artifacts to allow a user to seamlessly deploy an application from a single package. I’ve been excited to see the community work together to build the specification to a 1.0 release that shows CNAB is ready for all of the world’s deployment needs. Congratulations to the team on the work and the fantastic partnership.

If you want to learn more about the ways in which Azure and HashiCorp collaborate to make cloud-native development easier, please check out the links below:

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Satellite connectivity expands reach of Azure ExpressRoute across the globe

Staying connected to access and ingest data in today’s highly distributed application environments is paramount for any enterprise. Many businesses need to operate in and across highly unpredictable and challenging conditions. For example, energy, farming, mining, and shipping often need to operate in remote, rural, or other isolated locations with poor network connectivity.

With the cloud now the de facto and primary target for the bulk of application and infrastructure migrations, access from remote and rural locations becomes even more important. The path to realizing the value of the cloud starts with a hybrid environment access resources with dedicated and private connectivity.

Network performance for these hybrid scenarios from rural and remote sites becomes increasingly critical. With globally connected organizations, the explosive number of connected devices and data in the Cloud, as well as emerging areas such as autonomous driving and traditional remote locations such as cruise ships are directly affected by connectivity performance.  Other examples requiring highly available, fast, and predictable network service include managing supply chain systems from remote farms or transferring data to optimize equipment maintenance in aerospace.

Today, I want to share the progress we have made to help customers address and solve these issues. Satellite connectivity addresses challenges of operating in remote locations.

Microsoft cloud services can be accessed with Azure ExpressRoute using satellite connectivity. With commercial satellite constellations becoming widely available, new solutions architectures offer improved and affordable performance to access Microsoft.

Infographic of High level architecture of ExpressRoute and satellite integration

Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute, with one of the largest networking ecosystems in the public Cloud now includes satellite connectivity partners bringing new options and coverage.

 8095 1SES will provide dedicated, private network connectivity from any vessel, airplane, enterprise, energy or government site in the world to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform via its unique multi-orbit satellite systems. As an ExpressRoute partner, SES will provide global reach and fibre-like high-performance to Azure customers via its complete portfolio of Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites, Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) O3b constellation, global gateway network, and core terrestrial network infrastructure around the world.

 8095 2Intelsat’s customers are the global telecommunications service providers and multinational enterprises that rely on our services to power businesses and communities wherever their needs take them. Now they have a powerful new tool in their solutions toolkit. With the ability to rapidly expand the reach of cloud-based enterprises, accelerate customer adoption of cloud services, and deliver additional resiliency to existing cloud-connected networks, the benefits of cloud services are no longer limited to only a subset of users and geographies. Intelsat is excited to bring our global reach and reliability to this partnership with Microsoft, providing the connectivity that is essential to delivering on the expectations and promises of the cloud.

8095 3 Viasat, a provider of high-speed, high-quality satellite broadband solutions to businesses and commercial entities around the world, is introducing Direct Cloud Connect service to give customers expanded options for accessing enterprise-grade cloud services. Azure ExpressRoute will be the first cloud service offered to enable customers to optimize their network infrastructure and cloud investments through a secure, dedicated network connection to Azure’s intelligent cloud services.

Microsoft wants to help accelerate scenarios by optimizing the connectivity through Microsoft’s global network, one of the largest and most innovative in the world.

ExpressRoute for satellites directly connects our partners’ ground stations to our global network using a dedicated private link. But what does it more specifically mean to our customers?

  • Using satellite connectivity with ExpressRoute provides dedicated and highly available, private access directly to Azure and Azure Government clouds.
  • ExpressRoute provides predictable latency through well-connected ground stations, and, as always, maintains all traffic privately on our network – no traversing of the Internet.
  • Customers and partners can harness Microsoft’s global network to rapidly deliver data to where it’s needed or augment routing to best optimize for their specific need.
  • Satellite and a wide selection of service providers will enable rich solution portfolios for cloud and hybrid networking solutions centered around Azure networking services.
  • With some of the world’s leading broadband satellite providers as partners, customers can select the best solution based on their needs. Each of the partners brings different strengths, for example, choices between Geostationary (GEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and in the future Low Earth Orbit(LEO) satellites, geographical presence, pricing, technology differentiation, bandwidth, and others.
  • ExpressRoute over satellite creates new channels and reach for satellite broadband providers, through a growing base of enterprises, organizations and public sector customers.

With this addition to the ExpressRoute partner ecosystem, Azure customers in industries like aviation, oil and gas, government, peacekeeping, and remote manufacturing can deploy new use cases and projects that increase the value of their cloud investments and strategy.

As always, we are very interested in your feedback and suggestions as we continue to enhance our networking services, so I encourage you to share your experiences and suggestions with us.

You can follow these links to learn more about our partners Intelsat, SES, and Viasat, and learn more about Azure ExpressRoute from our website and our detailed documentation.

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Microsoft acquires Movere to help customers unlock cloud innovation with seamless migration tools

As cloud growth continues to unlock opportunities for our customers, cloud migration is increasingly important for business’s digital strategy. Today, I am pleased to announce that Microsoft has acquired Movere, an innovative technology provider in the cloud migration space.

We’re committed to providing our customers with a comprehensive experience for migrating existing applications and infrastructure to Azure, which include the right tools, processes, and programs. As part of that ongoing investment, we’re excited to welcome the leadership, talent, technology, and deep expertise Movere has built in enabling customers’ journey to the cloud over the last 11 years.

Movere’s innovative discovery and assessment capabilities will complement Azure Migrate and our integrated partner solutions, making migration an easier process for our customers. We believe that successful cloud migrations enable business transformation, and this acquisition underscores our investments to make that happen.

Together, Azure Migrate, Movere, and our ecosystem of independent software vendor (ISV) partners’ solutions provide choice and a comprehensive set of capabilities from discovery, assessment, to migration and optimization. We aim to streamline our customers’ journey to the cloud, enabling them to bring innovation and transformation with the power of Azure. You can read thoughts from Movere founders in their blog.

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Beyond the printed form: unlocking insights from documents with Form Recognizer

Data extraction from printed forms is by now a tried and true technology. Form Recognizer extracts key value pairs, tables and text from documents such as W2 tax statements, oil and gas drilling well reports, completion reports, invoices, and purchase orders. However, real-world businesses often rely on a variety of documents for their day-to-day needs that are not always cleanly printed.

We are excited to announce the addition of handwritten and mixed-mode (printed and handwritten) support. Starting now, handling handwritten and mixed-mode forms is the new norm.

Extracting data from handwritten and mixed-mode content with Form Recognizer

Entire data sets that were inaccessible in the past due to the limitations of extraction technology now become available. The handwritten and mixed-mode capability of Form Recognizer is available in preview and enables you to extract structured data out of handwritten text filled in forms such as:

  • Medical forms: New patient information, doctor notes.
  • Financial forms: Account opening forms, credit card applications.
  • Insurance: Claim forms, liability forms.
  • Manufacturing forms: Packaging slips, testing forms, quality forms.
  • And more.

By using our vast experience in optical character recognition (OCR) and machine learning for form analysis, our experts created a state-of-the-art solution that goes beyond printed forms. The OCR technology behind the service supports both handwritten and printed. Expanding the scope of Form Recognizer allows you to tap into previously uncharted territories, by making new sources of data available to you. You may extract valuable business information from newly available data, keeping you ahead of your competition.

Whether you are using Form Recognizer for the first time or already integrated it into your organization, you will now have an opportunity to create new business applications:

  • Expand your available data set: If you are only extracting data from machine printed forms, expand your total data set to mixed-mode forms and historic handwritten forms.
  • Create one application for a mix of documents: If you use a mix of handwritten and printed forms, you can create one application that applies across all your data.
  • Avoid manual digitization of handwritten forms: Original forms may be fed to Form Recognizer without any pre-processing, extracting the same key-value pairs and table data you would get from a machine-printed form to reduce costs, errors, and time.

Our customer: Avanade

Avanade values people as their most important asset. They are always on the lookout for talented and passionate professionals to grow their organization. One way they find these people is by attending external events, which may include university career fairs, trade shows, or technical conferences to name a few. 

During these events they often take the details of those interested in finding out more about Avanade, as well as their permission to contact them at a later date. Normally this is completed with a digital form using a set of tablets. But when the stand is particularly busy, they use a short paper form that attendees can fill in with their handwritten details. Unfortunately, these forms needed to be manually entered into the marketing database, requiring a considerable amount of time and resources. With the volume of potential new contacts at these events, multiplied by the number of events Avanade attends, this task can be daunting.

Azure Form Recognizer’s new handwritten support simplifies the process, giving Avanade peace of mind knowing no contact is lost and the information is there for them immediately.

In addition, Avanade integrated Form Recognizer as a skill within their cognitive search solution, enabling them to quickly use the service in their existing platform and follow-up with new leads, while their competitors may be spending time digitizing their handwritten forms.

Am image of a handwritten form and the data extracted via Form Recognizer.

“Azure Form Recognizer takes a vast amount of effort out of the process, changing the task from data entry to data validation. By integrating Form Recognizer with Azure Search, we are also immediately able to use the service in our existing platforms. If we need to find and check a form for any reason, for example to check for a valid signature there, we can simply search by any of the fields like name or job title and jump straight to that form. In our initial tests, using Form Recognizer has reduced the time taken to digitize the forms and double check the entries by 35 percent, a number we only expect to get better as we work to optimize our tools to work hand in hand with the service, and add in more automation.” – Fergus Kidd, Emerging Technology Engineer, Avanade

Getting started

To learn more about Form Recognizer and the rest of the Azure AI ecosystem, please visit our website and read the documentation.

Get started by contacting us.

For additional questions please reach out to us at formrecog_contact@microsoft.com

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There’s power in the ‘Location of Things’ – find it with Azure Maps

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the beginning of accessing planetary-scale insights. With the mass adoption of IoT and the very near future explosion of sensors, connectivity, and computing, humanity is on the cusp of a fully connected, intelligent world. We will be part of the generation that realizes the data-rich, algorithmically deterministic lifestyle the world has never seen. The inherent value of this interconnectedness lies within the constructs of human nature to thrive. Bringing all of this information together with spatial intelligence has been challenging to say the least. Until today.

Today, we’re unveiling a cross-Azure IoT collaboration simplifying the use of location and spatial intelligence used in conjunction with IoT messaging. The result is the means for customers to use Azure IoT services to stay better informed about their “things” in terms of space. Azure IoT customers can now implement IoT spatial analytics using Azure Maps. Providing spatial intelligence to IoT devices means greater insights into not just what’s happening, but where it’s happening.

The map shows four points where the vehicle was outside the geofence, logged at regular time intervals.

Azure Maps provides geographic context for information and, as it pertains to IoT, thus geographic insights based on IoT information. Customers are using Azure Maps and Azure IoT for monitoring movement of assets and cross reference the “things” with their location. For example, assume a truck is delivering refrigerated goods from New York City to Washington DC. A route is calculated to determine the path and duration the truck should take to deliver the goods. From the route, a geofence can be created and stored in Azure Maps. The black box on the truck tracking the vehicle would provide Azure IoT Hub to determine if the truck ever leaves the predetermined path. If it does, this could signal that something is wrong—a detour could be disastrous for refrigerated goods. Notifications of detours could be setup and communicated through Azure Event Grid and sent over email, text, or a myriad of other communication mediums.

When we talk about Azure IoT, we often talk about data (from sensors) which leads to insights (when computed) which leads to actions (a result of insights). With The Location of Things, we’re now talking about data from sensors which leads to insights which leads to actions and where they are needed. Knowing where to take actions has massive implications in terms of cost efficacy and time management. When you know where you have issues or opportunities, you can then make informed decisions of where to deploy resources, where to deploy inventory, or where to withdraw them. Run this over time and with enough data and you have artificial intelligence you could deploy at the edge to help with real-time decision making. Have enough data coming in fast enough and you’d be making decisions fast enough to predict future opportunities and issues—and where to deploy resources before you need them.

Location is a powerful component of providing insights. If you have a means of providing location via your IoT messages you can start doing so immediately. If you don’t have location natively, you’d be surprised at how you can get location associated with your sensors and device location. RevIP, Wi-Fi, and cell tower triangulation all provide a means of getting location into your IoT messages. Get that location data into the cloud and start gaining spatial insights today.

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Latency is the new currency of the Cloud: announcing 31 new Azure edge sites

Providing users fast and reliable access to their cloud services, apps, and content is pivotal to a business’ success.

The latency when accessing cloud-based services can be the inhibitor to cloud adoption or migration. In most cases, this is caused by commercial internet connections that aren’t tailored to today’s global cloud needs. Through deployment and operation of globally and strategically placed edge sites, Microsoft dramatically accelerates the performance and experience when you are accessing apps, content, or services such as Azure and Office 365 on the Microsoft global network.

Edges optimize network performance through local access points to and from the vast Microsoft global network, in many cases providing 10x the acceleration to access and consume cloud-based content and services from Microsoft.

What is the network edge?

Solely providing faster network access isn’t enough, and applications need intelligent services to expedite and simplify how a global audience accesses and experiences their offerings. Edge sites provide application development teams increased visibility and higher availability to access services that improve how they deliver global applications.

Edge sites benefit infrastructure and development teams in multiple key areas

  • Improved optimization for application delivery through Azure Front Door (AFD.) Microsoft recently announced AFD, which allows customers to define, manage, accelerate, and monitor global routing for web traffic with customizations for the best performance and instant global failover for application accessibility.
  • An enhanced customer experience via high-bandwidth access to Azure Blob storage, web applications, and live video-on-demand streams. Azure Content Delivery Network delivers high-bandwidth content by caching objects to the consumer’s closest point of presence.
  • Private connectivity and dedicated performance through Azure ExpressRoute. ExpressRoute provides up to 100 gigabits per second of fully redundant bandwidth directly to the Microsoft global network at select peering locations across the globe, making connecting to and through Azure a seamless and integrated experience for customers.

A diagram of an Azure Edge Site.

New edge sites

Today, we’re announcing the addition of 31 new edge sites, bringing the total to over 150 across more than 50 countries. We’re also adding 14 new meet-me sites to Azure ExpressRoute to further enable and expand access to dedicated private connections between customers’ on-premises environments and Azure.

A map showing upcoming and live edges.

More than two decades of building global network infrastructure have given us a keen awareness of globally distributed edge sites and their critical role in a business’ success.

By utilizing the expanding network of edge sites, Microsoft provides more than 80 percent of global GDP with an experience of sub-30 milliseconds latency. We are adding new edges every week, and our ambition is to provide this level of performance to all of our global audience.

This expansion proves its value further when workloads move to the cloud or when Microsoft cloud services such as Azure, Microsoft 365, and Xbox are used. By operating over a dedicated, premium wide-area-network, our customers avoid transferring customer data over the public internet, which ensures security, optimizes traffic, and increases performance.

New edge sites

Country

City

Colombia

Bogota

Germany

Frankfurt
Munich

India

Hyderabad

Indonesia

Jakarta

Kenya

Nariobi

Netherlands

Amsterdam

New Zealand

Auckland

Nigeria

Lagos

Norway

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With this latest announcement, Microsoft continues to offer cloud customers the fastest and most accessible global network, driving a competitive advantage for organizations accessing the global market and increased satisfaction for consumers.

Explore the Microsoft global network to learn about how it can benefit your organization today.

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Redesigning Configuration Refresh for Azure App Configuration

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Overview

Since its inception, the .NET Core configuration provider for Azure App Configuration has provided the capability to monitor changes and sync them to the configuration within a running application. We recently redesigned this functionality to allow for on-demand refresh of the configuration. The new design paves the way for smarter applications that only refresh the configuration when necessary. As a result, inactive applications no longer have to monitor for configuration changes unnecessarily.
 

Initial design : Timer-based watch

In the initial design, configuration was kept in sync with Azure App Configuration using a watch mechanism which ran on a timer. At the time of initialization of the Azure App Configuration provider, users could specify the configuration settings to be updated and an optional polling interval. In case the polling interval was not specified, a default value of 30 seconds was used.

public static IWebHost BuildWebHost(string[] args)
{ WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args) .ConfigureAppConfiguration((hostingContext, config) => { // Load settings from Azure App Configuration // Set up the provider to listen for changes triggered by a sentinel value var settings = config.Build(); string appConfigurationEndpoint = settings["AzureAppConfigurationEndpoint"]; config.AddAzureAppConfiguration(options => { options.ConnectWithManagedIdentity(appConfigurationEndpoint) .Use(keyFilter: "WebDemo:*") .WatchAndReloadAll(key: "WebDemo:Sentinel", label: LabelFilter.Null); }); settings = config.Build(); }) .UseStartup<Startup>() .Build();
}

For example, in the above code snippet, Azure App Configuration would be pinged every 30 seconds for changes. These calls would be made irrespective of whether the application was active or not. As a result, there would be unnecessary usage of network and CPU resources within inactive applications. Applications needed a way to trigger a refresh of the configuration on demand in order to be able to limit the refreshes to active applications. Then unnecessary checks for changes could be avoided.

This timer-based watch mechanism had the following fundamental design flaws.

  1. It could not be invoked on-demand.
  2. It continued to run in the background even in applications that could be considered inactive.
  3. It promoted constant polling of configuration rather than a more intelligent approach of updating configuration when applications are active or need to ensure freshness.
     

New design : Activity-based refresh

The new refresh mechanism allows users to keep their configuration updated using a middleware to determine activity. As long as the ASP.NET Core web application continues to receive requests, the configuration settings continue to get updated with the configuration store.

The application can be configured to trigger refresh for each request by adding the Azure App Configuration middleware from package Microsoft.Azure.AppConfiguration.AspNetCore in your application’s startup code.

public void Configure(IApplicationBuilder app, IHostingEnvironment env)
{ app.UseAzureAppConfiguration(); app.UseMvc();
}

At the time of initialization of the configuration provider, the user can use the ConfigureRefresh method to register the configuration settings to be updated with an optional cache expiration time. In case the cache expiration time is not specified, a default value of 30 seconds is used.

public static IWebHost BuildWebHost(string[] args)
{ WebHost.CreateDefaultBuilder(args) .ConfigureAppConfiguration((hostingContext, config) => { // Load settings from Azure App Configuration // Set up the provider to listen for changes triggered by a sentinel value var settings = config.Build(); string appConfigurationEndpoint = settings["AzureAppConfigurationEndpoint"]; config.AddAzureAppConfiguration(options => { options.ConnectWithManagedIdentity(appConfigurationEndpoint) .Use(keyFilter: "WebDemo:*") .ConfigureRefresh((refreshOptions) => { // Indicates that all settings should be refreshed when the given key has changed refreshOptions.Register(key: "WebDemo:Sentinel", label: LabelFilter.Null, refreshAll: true); }); }); settings = config.Build(); }) .UseStartup<Startup>() .Build();
}

In order to keep the settings updated and avoid unnecessary calls to the configuration store, an internal cache is used for each setting. Until the cached value of a setting has expired, the refresh operation does not update the value. This happens even when the value has changed in the configuration store.  

Try it now!

For more information about Azure App Configuration, check out the following resources. You can find step-by-step tutorials that would help you get started with dynamic configuration using the new refresh mechanism within minutes. Please let us know what you think by filing issues on GitHub.

Overview: Azure App configuration
Tutorial: Use dynamic configuration in an ASP.NET Core app
Tutorial: Use dynamic configuration in a .NET Core app
Related Blog: Configuring a Server-side Blazor app with Azure App Configuration

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Software Engineer, Azure App Configuration

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How Lucky Brand and its merchants are uncovering data-driven results with Azure VMware Solutions

Since announcing Azure VMware Solutions at Dell Technologies World this spring, we’ve been energized by the positive feedback we’ve received from our partners and customers who are beginning to move their VMware workloads to Azure. One of these customers is Lucky Brand, a leading retailer that is embracing digital transformation while staying true to its rich heritage. As part of their broader strategy to leverage the innovation possible in the cloud, Lucky Brand is transitioning several VMware workloads to Azure.

“We’re seeing great initial ROI with Azure VMware Solutions. We chose Microsoft Azure as our strategic cloud platform and decided to dramatically reduce our AWS footprint and 3rd Party co-located data centers. We have a significant VMware environment footprint for many of our on-premises business applications.

The strategy has allowed us to become more data driven and allow our merchants and finance analysts the ability to uncover results quickly and rapidly with all the data in a central cloud platform providing great benefits for us in the competitive retail landscape. Utilizing Microsoft Azure and VMware we leverage a scalable cloud architecture and VMware to virtualize and manage the computing resources and applications in Azure in a dynamic business environment.

Since May, we’ve been successfully leveraging these applications on the Azure VMware Solution by CloudSimple platform. We are impressed with the performance, ease of use and the level of support we have received by Microsoft and its partners.” 

Kevin Nehring, CTO, Lucky Brand

Expanding to more regions worldwide and adding new capabilities

Based on customer demand, we are excited to announce that we will expand Azure VMware Solutions to a total of eight regions across the US, Western Europe, and Asia Pacific by end of year.

In addition to expanding to more regions, we are continuing to add new capabilities to Azure VMware Solutions and deliver seamless integration with native Azure services. One example is how we’re expanding the supported Azure VMware Solutions storage options to include Azure NetApp Files by the end of the year. This new capability will allow IT organizations to more easily run storage intensive workloads on Azure VMware Solutions. We are committed to continuously innovating and delivering capabilities based on customer feedback.

Broadening the ecosystem

It is amazing to see the market interest in Azure VMware Solutions and the partner ecosystem building tools and capabilities that support Azure VMware Solutions customer scenarios.

RiverMeadow now supports capabilities to accelerate the migration of VMware environments on Azure VMware Solutions.

“I am thrilled about our ongoing collaboration with Microsoft. Azure VMware Solutions enable enterprise customers to get the benefit of cloud while still running their infrastructure and applications in a familiar, tried and trusted VMware environment. Add with the performance and cost benefits of VMware on Azure, you have a complete solution. I fully expect to see substantial enterprise adoption over the short term as we work with Microsoft’s customers to help them migrate even the most complex workloads to Azure.”

Jim Jordan, President and CEO, RiverMeadow

Zerto has integrated its IT Resilience Platform with Azure VMware Solutions, delivering replication and failover capabilities between Azure VMware Solution by CloudSimple, Azure and any other Hyper-V or VMware environments, keeping the same on-premises environment configurations, and reducing the impact of disasters, logical corruptions, and ransomware infections.

“Azure VMware Solution by CloudSimple, brings the familiarity and simplicity of VMware into Azure public cloud. Every customer and IT pro using VMware will be instantly productive with minimal or no Azure competency. With Zerto, VMware customers gain immediate access to simple point and click disaster recovery and migration capabilities between Azure VMware Solutions, the rest of Azure, and on-premises VMware private clouds. Enabled by Zerto, one of Microsoft’s top ISVs and an award-winning industry leader in VMware-based disaster recovery and cloud migration, delivers native support for Azure VMware Solutions. ”

Peter Kerr, Vice President of Global Alliances, Zerto

Veeam Backup & Replication™ software is specialized in supporting VMware vSphere environments, their solutions will help customers meet the backup demands of organizations deploying Azure VMware Solutions.

“As a leading innovator of Cloud Data Management solutions, Veeam makes it easy for our customers to protect their virtual, physical, and cloud-based workloads regardless of where those reside. Veeam’s support for Microsoft Azure VMware Solutions by CloudSimple further enhances that position by enabling interoperability and portability across multi-cloud environments. With Veeam Backup & Replication, customers can easily migrate and protect their VMware workloads in Azure as part of a cloud-first initiative, create an Azure-based DR strategy, or simply create new Azure IaaS instances – all with the same proven Veeam solutions they already use today.”  

Ken Ringdahl, Vice President of Global Alliances Architecture, Veeam Software

Join us at VMworld

If you plan to attend VMworld this week in San Francisco, stop by our booth and witness Azure VMware Solutions in action; or sit down for a few minutes and listen to one of our mini theater presentations addressing a variety of topics such as Windows Virtual Desktop, Windows Server, and SQL Server on Azure in addition to Azure VMware Solutions!

Learn more about Azure VMware Solutions.