Azure Cognitive Services in containers is the smart way to go
- Posted on January 2, 2019
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
Containers just got smarter.
That’s the news from Microsoft, which announced recently that Azure Cognitive Services now supports containers. The marriage of AI and containers is a technology story, of course, but it’s a potentially even bigger business story, one that affects where and how you can do business and gain competitive advantage.
First, the technology story
Containers aren’t new, of course. They’re an increasingly popular technology with a big impact on business. That’s because they boost the agility and flexibility with which a business can roll out new tools to employees and new products and services to customers. With containers, a business can get software releases and changes out faster and more frequently, increasing its competitive advantage. Because containers abstract applications from their underlying operating systems and other services—like virtual machines abstracted from hardware—those applications can run anywhere: in the cloud, on a laptop, in a kiosk or in an intelligent Internet-of-Things (IoT) edge device in the field. In many respects this frees up the application’s developer, who can focus on creating the best, most useful software for the business. With Microsoft’s announcement, that software can now more easily include object detection, vision recognition, text and language understanding.
At Avanade, we take containers a step further by including support for them in our modern engineering platform, a key part of our overall approach to intelligent IT. So, you can automate your creation and management of containers—including AI-enabled containers—for a faster, easier, more seamless DevOps process. You can take greater advantage of IoT capabilities and move technologies such as AI closer to the edge, where they can reduce latency and boost performance.
What AI containers do for business
And you can do much more, which is where the business story gets interesting. With the greater agility and adaptability that comes with container-based AI services, you can respond more quickly to new competition, regulatory environments and business models. That contrasts with the more limited responses that have been possible with traditional, cloud-based AI.
For example, data sovereignty laws and GDPR requirements generally restrict the transfer of data to the cloud, where cloud-based cognitive services can interact with it. Now, with containers that support cognitive services, you can avoid those restrictions by running your services locally. A retail bank might use containerized AI to identify customers, address their needs, process payments and offer additional services, boosting customer satisfaction and bank revenue—all without sending private financial data outside the region (or even outside the bank) in accordance with GDPR.
Similarly, regional medical centers and clinics subject to HIPAA privacy laws in the US can process protected information on site with containerized AI to cut patient wait times and deliver better health outcomes.
Or, think about limited-connectivity or disconnected environments—such as manufacturing shop floors, remote customer sites or oil rigs or tankers—that can’t count on accessing AI that resides in the always-on cloud. Previously, these sites might have had to batch their data to process it during narrow periods of cloud connectivity, with the delays greatly limiting the timeliness and usefulness of AI. Now, these sites can combine IoT and AI to anticipate and respond to manufacturing disruptions before they occur, increasing safety, productivity and product quality while reducing errors and costs.
If you can’t bring your data to your AI, now you can bring your AI to your data. That’s the message of container-hosted AI and the modern engineering platform. Together, they optimize your ability to bring AI into environments where you can’t count on the cloud. Using AI where you couldn’t before makes innovative solutions possible—and innovative solutions deliver competitive advantage.
Boost ROI and scale
If you’re already using Azure Cognitive Services, you’ve invested time and money to train the models that support your use cases. Because those models are now portable, you can take advantage of them in regulated, limited-connectivity and disconnected environments, increasing your return on that investment.
You can also scale your use of AI with a combination of cloud- and container-based architectures. That enables you to apply the most appropriate architectural form for any given environment or use. At the same time, you’re deploying consistent AI technology across the enterprise, increasing reliability while decreasing your operating cost.
Keep in mind…
Here are three things to keep in mind as you think about taking advantage of this important news:
- Break the barriers between your data scientists and business creatives. Containerized cognitive services is about far more than putting AI where you couldn’t before. It’s about using it in exciting new ways to advance the business. Unless you have heterogenous teams bringing diverse perspectives to the table, you may miss some of the most important innovation possibilities for your business.
- You need a cloud strategy that’s not just about the cloud. If you don’t yet have a cloud strategy, you’re behind the curve. But if your cloud strategy is limited to the cloud, you may be about to fall behind the next curve. Microsoft’s announcement is further proof that the cloud is crucial to the enterprise—and also part of a larger environment, including both legacy and edge platforms, with which it must integrate.
- Be prepared for the ethics issues. Putting cognitive services in places you couldn’t before could raise new ethics issues. After all, we’re talking about the ability to read people’s expressions and even their emotions. This shouldn’t put you off—but it should put you on alert. Plug your ethics committee into these discussions when appropriate. If you don’t already have an ethics committee, create one. But that’s another blog.
Want to learn more?
Microsoft’s announcement furthers the democratization of AI: the use of AI in more places and in more ways throughout the enterprise and beyond. Whether you turn to us for your AI solutions or look to us to assist you in developing your own, we’re ready to help with the greatest concentration of Microsoft expertise outside of Microsoft itself.