Microsoft’s Azure Synapse Analytics bridges the gap between data lakes and warehouses

At its annual Ignite conference in Orlando, Fla., Microsoft today announced a major new Azure service for enterprises: Azure Synapse Analytics, which Microsoft describes as “the next evolution of Azure SQL Data Warehouse.” Like SQL Data Warehouse, it aims to bridge the gap between data warehouses and data lakes, which are often completely separate. Synapse also taps into a wide variety of other Microsoft services, including Power BI and Azure Machine Learning, as well as a partner ecosystem that includes Databricks, Informatica, Accenture, Talend, Attunity, Pragmatic Works and Adatis. It’s also integrated with Apache Spark.

The idea here is that Synapse allows anybody working with data in those disparate places to manage and analyze it from within a single service. It can be used to analyze relational and unstructured data, using standard SQL.

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Microsoft also highlights Synapse’s integration with Power BI, its easy to use business intelligence and reporting tool, as well as Azure Machine Learning for building models.

With the Azure Synapse studio, the service provides data professionals with a single workspace for prepping and managing their data, as well as for their big data and AI tasks. There’s also a code-free environment for managing data pipelines.

As Microsoft stresses, businesses that want to adopt Synapse can continue to use their existing workloads in production with Synapse and automatically get all of the benefits of the service. “Businesses can put their data to work much more quickly, productively, and securely, pulling together insights from all data sources, data warehouses, and big data analytics systems,” writes Microsoft CVP of Azure Data, Rohan Kumar.

In a demo at Ignite, Kumar also benchmarked Synapse against Google’s BigQuery. Synapse ran the same query over a petabyte of data in 75% less time. He also noted that Synapse can handle thousands of concurrent users — unlike some of Microsoft’s competitors.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Power BI platform update aims to put AI in reach of business users

Low code and no code are the latest industry buzzwords, but if vendors can truly abstract away the complexity of difficult tasks like building machine learning models, it could help mainstream technologies that are currently out of reach of most business users. That’s precisely what Microsoft is aiming to do with its latest Power BI platform announcements today.

The company tried to bring that low code simplicity to building applications last year when it announced PowerApps. Now it believes by combining PowerApps with Microsoft Flow and its new AI Builder tool, it can allow folks building apps with PowerApps to add a layer of intelligence very quickly.

It starts with having access to data sources, and the Data Connector tool gives users access to over 250 data connectors. That includes Salesforce, Oracle and Adobe, as well as of course Microsoft services like Office 365 and Dynamics 365. Richard Riley, senior director for Power Platform marketing, says this is the foundation for pulling data into AI Builder.

“AI Builder is all about making it just as easy in a low code, no code way to go bring artificial intelligence and machine learning into your Power Apps, into Microsoft Flow, into the Common Data Service, into your data connectors, and so on,” Riley told TechCrunch.

Screenshot: Microsoft

Charles Lamanna, general manager at Microsoft says that Microsoft can do all the analysis and heavy lifting required to build a data model for you, removing a huge barrier to entry for business users. “The basic idea is that you can select any field in the Common Data Service and just say, ‘I want to predict this field.’  Then we’ll actually go look at historical records for that same table or entity to go predict [the results],” he explained. This could be used to predict if a customer will sign up for a credit card, if a customer is likely to churn, or if a loan would be approved, and so forth.

While Microsoft admits this won’t be something everyone uses, they do see a kind of power user who might have been previously unable to approach this level of sophistication on their own, building apps and adding layers of intelligence without a heck of a lot of coding. If it works as advertised it will bring a level of simplicity to tasks that were previously well out of reach of business users without requiring a data scientist.


By Ron Miller

Microsoft Power Apps update includes new Common Data Service

Microsoft announced the spring update to its Power BI and Power Apps platform today with a significant enhancement, a new common data service that enables companies to build data-based applications from a variety of data sources.

This is part of a wider strategy that is designed to remove some of the complexity associated with gathering, processing and incorporating data into applications.

Microsoft is essentially giving customers access to the same set of tools and services it has used internally to build Dynamics 365, its enterprise suite of tools that includes CRM, marketing automation and field service along with enterprise resource planning tools (ERP).

While the company has been allowing third party developers to build application on the platform for about 18 months with its Power Apps tools, they haven’t been able to take advantage of the data under the hood without some heavy lifting. Microsoft aims to change that with the Common Data Service.

Diagram: Microsoft

“What that service means, practically speaking, is that it’s not only a place to store data, but a model (schema) that is stamped out there with everything you would need to build a business app around [elements] such as contacts, events, customers [and so forth], Ryan Cunningham, Microsoft program manager for Power Apps explained. This allows the programmer to take advantage of pre-built relationships and rules and how they should be enforced without having to code them from scratch.

Cunningham points out that they tried to make it fairly simple to build the apps, while still providing a level of customization and the ability to use Microsoft data or data from another source. That’s where the Common Data Store comes in.

He says that developers can take advantage of the 200 connectors that come pre-built out of the box and connect to all that data you’ve been collecting in the Microsoft products, but they aren’t limited to the Microsoft data. “You can still build custom applications on top of the platform, and get the benefit of the platform we’ve built our tools on,” he said.

The Common Data Store is part of a much broader set of announcements around the spring releases of Dynamics 365, Office 365 and Power BI platforms all announced today.