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July 13, 2015

Microsoft Unites Analytics Under ‘Cortana,’ Adds Spark Support

Microsoft today unveiled a new suite of hosted analytic services named after Cortana, the software giant’s personal assistant software for smartphones. Meanwhile, the company is prepping to begin support for Apache Spark on Azure, its public cloud platform.

If you have a Windows-based smartphone, you’re probably familiar with Cortana, the smooth-talking female voice that does various digital chores at your behalf. The new Cortana Analytics Suite takes the personal assistant role and injects big data into it.

The new suite that Microsoft unveiled at its Worldwide Partner Conference today is essentially a mashup of new and existing data analytic capabilities from Microsoft that it will package and sell as an integrated offering with a simple monthly subscription. The offering will be generally available later this fall.

Cortana Analytics Suite will leverage several existing products, such as the Cortana personal digital assistant, Power BI, and various big data analytics services sold on Azure, including Azure Machine Learning, Azure HDInsight, Azure Stream Analytics, and Azure SQL Data Warehouse, among others.

The Cortana Analytics Suite will also make use of machine learning technology in the areas of text analytics, speech recognition, picture detection (computer vision), and facial recognition. On top of these pieces, Microsoft will deliver preconfigured solutions for common big data analytic scenarios for several industries, such as doing fraud detection in financial services, churn analysis in retail, and making recommendations in manufacturing and healthcare.

It’s all about finding more value from data, and ultimately enabling predictive analytics, says Takeshi Numoto, corporate vice president of cloud and enterprise at Microsoft.

“Our customers want to transform data to intelligent action and reinvent their business processes,” Numoto says in a blog post. “To do this they need to more easily analyze massive amounts of data – so they can move from seeing ‘what happened’ and understanding ‘why it happened’ to predicting ‘what will happen’ and ultimately, knowing ‘what should I do.’ Only then can they create the intelligent enterprise.”

In other news, Microsoft on Friday announced the availability of a public preview of Apache Spark for Azure HDInsight, its hosted Apache Hadoop service. According to T.K. Ranga Rengarajan, corporate vice president of the Data Platform segment at Microsoft, Spark gives Azure customers up to a 100x speed boost over other big data processing techniques.

“Spark lets users do various tasks like batch and interactive queries, real-time streaming, machine learning, and graph processing–all with the same common execution model,” Rengarajan says in a post on the SQL Server blog. “With Spark for Azure HDInsight, we offer customers more value with an enterprise ready Spark solution that’s fully managed and has a choice of compelling and interactive experiences.”

Microsoft is the latest big data as a service provider to announce support for Spark, which is quickly becoming a common piece of the Hadoop ecosystem, particularly when the capability to quickly prep and explore large data sets in an interactive manner is a requirement. IBM and Amazon Web Services both announced support for Spark in the past month, following in the footsteps of Hadoop as a service providers like Qubole and Altiscale, who also added support for Spark this year.

Microsoft also announced various enhancements to Power BI, its big data visualization platform. On July 24, the company will start shipping Power BI Desktop, a Windows version of the tool. PowerBI also now supports Spark (via HD Insight), and is now open source, according to Microsoft. The company also announced various Power BI add-ons will become available from various vendors, and a new mobile app for running Power BI on Android phones.

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