Azure Logic Apps will be the Pro Version of Microsoft Flow

Microsoft yesterday unveiled a brand new service called Microsoft Flow.  Flow is an “If This Then That” (IFTTT) service that allows you to create cloud based workflows for connecting events generated by cloud services such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. that business processes that can send actions to other services.

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Microsoft also has another Azure service called “Logic Apps” that was introduced in February in preview.  Logic Apps is a configuration based workflow engine that connects cloud services together using Webhooks.  Sound familiar?

Sample workflow

When I tweeted the announcement yesterday about Flow, I received this tweet:

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The answer from Microsoft is that they are in fact the same platform and that Logic Apps will become the “Pro” version of Flow as the two services mature.

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Stay tuned for details as they come out from Microsoft….

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Microsoft Unveils Yet another RAD Tool with Flow

Microsoft today introduced a new type of tool known in the industry as If This Then That (IFTTT) which allows for the creation of pseudo applications based on combining cloud services into business driven workflows.  Microsoft Flow is designed to connect to cloud services such as Twitter, Slack, Google Drive, Office 365, etc. and use these services to both generate events (e.g. Twitter retweets your post or someone sends you an email) and drive actions to these cloud services (e.g. send out a tweet, copy a file, etc.) as part of a coordinated cloud based workflow.

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Microsoft has a long history of Rapid Application Development tools which are targeted to development of pseudo applications without the need for custom coding or developers.  In November, Microsoft launched PowerApps for building sophisticated web applications that harness cloud services such as Office 365, CRM, SalesForce, etc.

PersonalShopper

If you imagine the two services working together, you could create quite a sophisticated line of business application that leverages these cloud services to drive business processes complete with a dynamic web application for viewing content, providing a customer experience view and then integrating with cloud services for communication and transacting.

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Microsoft Goes on Offense and Sues US Government over Access Requests

The US Government routinely requests cloud data providers such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft to turn over data as part of investigations.  Over the past 18 months, Microsoft has received more than 2,600 “secrecy orders”.  Due to the secrecy aspect, Microsoft isn’t even allowed to disclose that an investigation is underway.

In order to protect its customers, Microsoft has been adding technical features such as encryption where only customers have the keys and processes that require customer approval for accessing customer data.  However, this may not be enough to keep out the US Government from accessing customer data.

Microsoft has now taken the step to sue the US Government on the grounds that the access requests are unconstitutional:

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) has sued the U.S. government for the right to tell its customers when a federal agency is looking at their emails, the latest in a series of clashes over privacy between the technology industry and Washington.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle, argues that the government is violating the U.S. Constitution by preventing Microsoft from notifying thousands of customers about government requests for their emails and other documents.

The government’s actions contravene the Fourth Amendment, which establishes the right for people and businesses to know if the government searches or seizes their property, the suit argues, and Microsoft’s First Amendment right to free speech.

As organizations move to the cloud, keep data private is a key concern and establishing that trust with customers is a key need for cloud providers such as Microsoft.  The argument that Microsoft is making is moving to the cloud should not create more exposure to government access requests than would be the case on premise and that requests for data are not transparent and access requests are too broad in their use.

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Express Route Now Supports Power BI

Microsoft Express Route is an Azure service that allows you to create private network connections between your data center and Azure to improve performance and network reliability compared to going through the public internet.

Microsoft will now support Power BI through Express Route, enabling scenarios where Power BI needs to query or fetch data from on premise data sources through a high speed network connection.

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Microsoft’s Cognitive Services Comes to Azure Media Services in Preview

Microsoft has been developing a set of services for speech, face and emotion recognition.  Known previously as “Project Oxford”, these services have now been bundled as Microsoft Cognitive Services.

Microsoft Project Oxford

For example, the APIs can detect the two faces and the feeling of surprise in this photo.

Microsoft has now announced these services are coming to Azure Media Services, branded as “Azure Media Analytics”.  Azure Media Services is Microsoft’s video and audio encoding service that allows you to encode audio and video and have it served to a mass audience on a variety of formats from mobile phones to broadcast quality. 

A few scenarios for using these new services include:

  • Analysis of customer service or call center audio for emotional content
  • Face detection within security video
  • Analysis of body cams, dashcams, etc. for evidence for policing
  • Extracting text content from video
  • Speech to text transcription of video

Key services that are part of Azure Media Analytics include motion detection, face detection, emotion detection and optical character recognition.

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Encryption at Rest Coming to Azure Blob Storage in Preview

Microsoft has announced new encryption capabilities coming to Azure Blob Storage.  The result is that all data stored within blob storage is now encrypted at rest using 256-bit AES Encryption.

Portal Screenshot showing Encryption properties

The new feature is only available in preview and only in particular regions (East Asia for Standard Storage and Japan East for Premium Storage).

The encryption is transparent to all the existing interfaces into Azure Storage, e.g. AZCOPY, PowerShell, .NET APIs, etc. so no changes are required to implement the feature.

The strength of any encryption is the management of the keys used to encrypt and in this case the keys are created and managed by Microsoft.  However, they are looking to enable organizations who want to manage their own keys so that they are never in Microsoft’s hands (a big concern for organizations who don’t want their data requested by NSA and other government agencies).

Q: Who manages the encryption keys?

A: The keys are managed by Microsoft.

Q: Can I use my own encryption keys?

A: We are working on providing capabilities for customers to bring their own encryption keys.

Q: Can I revoke access to the encryption keys?

A: Not at this time; the keys are fully managed by Microsoft.

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Microsoft Introduces new Virtual Assistant Bot Framework

Microsoft has announced a new “bot framework” for building virtual assistants available via text message, Skype, Slack, and other services.  Bots are software driven virtual assistants that use natural language recognition to allow customers or users to interact with applications for scenarios such as obtaining customer service, ordering food, or finding information.

The bot framework is available in Node.JS and C# and can be written and deployed to a specific channel, e.g. your Office 365 account to receive requests.

Bot Framework Diagram

Bot Connector Diagram

The SDK is open source and available on GitHub

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Microsoft Unveils Face, Speech and Emotion Recognition APIs as Microsoft Cognitive Services

Microsoft has been developing a set of APIs for speech, face and emotion recognition under the banner of Project Oxford for the past several months.  In September, I wrote a blog post that demonstrated how to use their Face Identification APIs to match faces and tag them.  I also wrote a blog post on how to use their OCR service to tag photos and extract text content.   Microsoft has also added new services for recognizing emotions in photos.

Microsoft Project Oxford

These APIs have been available in preview but are now being rolled out in production under the new brand “Microsoft Cognitive Services”.  There is a new web site and pricing is now available for each API.  The APIs will be available on demand as a cloud service. 

Microsoft has also provided a video that shows their vision around using applied artificial intelligence to enhance every day life, in this case for someone who is disabled.

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Microsoft Brings Identity Protection Service to Azure Active Directory

Microsoft continues to enhance its cloud Active Directory platform to provide customers with incentives to migrate their directories from on premise AD to the cloud.  The latest service to be added to Azure AD is a new Identity Protection Service

Azure AD Identity Protection is now available in preview.  It uses advanced machine learning to look for anomalies, intrusion and compromised accounts to proactively detect cyber attacks. 

At Microsoft, we enjoy a unique advantage here because we run many of the world’s largest cloud services, including Outlook.com, Xbox Live, Office 365 and Azure and they generate an incredible amount of data. And we put this data to good use! Every day our ML system processes>10 terabytes of data, including information on over 14B logins from nearly 1B users. These login signals are combined with data feeds from Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Security Response Center, phishing attack data from Outlook.com and Exchange Online as well as information we acquire from partnering with law enforcement, academia, security researchers, and industry partners around the world.

Azure AD Identity Protection will notify admins of any detected attempts, risky sign-ins or configuration vulnerabilities.

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