The art of possible with the cloud

One thing I try to do in my role with Microsoft is to get clients to think of possible use cases for building solutions in the Azure cloud.  To set off light bulbs in their heads.  Sometimes this is accomplished by showing them demo’s of existing solutions.  It’s that old saying “they don’t know what they don’t know”, so I try to open up their minds to ideas they never thought of.  There are so many technologies and tools that it is easy to miss some of them, so I thought I would list the most popular one’s for building solutions in Azure:

  • Power BI: The most well-known tool for building reports and dashboards, but what is not so well-known is there are “content packs” that allow you to connect to hundreds of services such as Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, and Google Analytics and automatically create reports and dashboards in seconds.  See Connect to services with content packs for Power BI (65 content packs as of 9/15/16).  Also, to give you ideas on the types of reports you can build in Power BI, check out these samples broken out by department or by industry.  In addition, there is a gallery of custom visuals built by the Power BI community that you can use (if a visual doesn’t exist, you can create your own custom visuals – take a look at the D3.js gallery to see if they have something similar and then you can add a wrapper around it to make it a custom visual.).  ou can keep up with the Power BI updates via these links: monthly Power BI Desktop updates, monthly mobile apps for Power BI, near-weekly Power BI Service updates, and Power BI Desktop data sources (63 data sources as of 9/15/16).  Finally, check out narratives for Power BI (product extention that will tell a story about your data) and Power BI Solution Templates (setup end-to-end, enterprise-ready solutions for common BI problems in minutes) and the Themes Gallery.
  • Azure Machine Learning (Azure ML): A very easy way for designing, developing, testing and deploying predictive models.  What exactly does that mean?  Check out these use cases to get a better idea
  • Cognitive Services: A way to add vision, speech, language, knowledge, and search capabilities to your applications using intelligence APIs and SDKs.  How cool is that!  There are a ton of API’s that you can check out here
  • HoloLens: Augmented reality that enables you to interact with high‑definition holograms in your world.  In short, HoloLens is a smart-glasses headset in which the live presentation of physical real-world elements is incorporated with that of virtual elements (“holograms”) such that they are perceived to exist together in a shared environment.  We are all going to want to build solutions with this!  Here is one video and another to show you the art of possible.  Then check out some use cases.  Then get blown away by checking out holoportation
  • Microsoft Bots: Bots are bits of software that use artificial intelligence to converse in human terms.  Imagine a bot in Skype that performs a variety of tasks, like adding items to your calendar, booking travel or hotel rooms, or even pre-populating conversations to friends with text.  They are easy to build with the Microsoft Bot Framework, and you can even chat with Spock
  • Cortana Intelligence Gallery: The Cortana Intelligence Suite (CIS) is a set of tools that allow you to build end-to-end “big data” solutions.  The Cortana Intelligence Gallery is a community of developers and data scientists, including Microsoft, who have shared their analytics solutions built on CIS.  It’s a great way to see the art of possible, as well as a way to quickly build a solution by using an existing solution in the gallery as a starting point.  The gallery is categorized by Solutions, Experiments, Machine Learning APIs, Notebooks, Competitions, Tutorials, and Collections.  You can also browse by industry
  • Azure IoT Suite preconfigured solutions: IoT is the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items—embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity that enable these objects to collect and exchange data (see case studies).  The Azure IoT Suite preconfigured solutions are implementations of common IoT solution patterns that you can deploy to Azure.  You can use the preconfigured solutions as a starting point for your own IoT solutions or to learn about common patterns in IoT solution design and development
  • Azure Quickstarts from Microsoft partners: A set of advanced ARM templates that are designed to launch full-stack solutions comprising multiple artifacts from multiple software providers, saving manual integration steps and time
  • Cortana Intelligence Solutions: Enables users to rapidly discover, easily provision, quickly experiment with, and jumpstart production grade analytical solutions using the Cortana Intelligence Suite (CIS).  It does so using preconfigured solutions, reference architectures and design patterns, built using ARM templates by Microsoft.  See Cortana Intelligence Solutions
  • Microsoft Open Source:  Who would have ever thought Microsoft would embrace open source?  Well they do, big time!  You can build solutions in Azure using Linux as part of the Open Cloud.  There are over a thousand pre-configured software images in the Virtual Machines Marketplace and hundreds of Azure Quickstart templates that you can use to create a VM, many which include open source software.  In a matter of minutes you can be building solutions such as a data lake in Hadoop, or combine open source software with Microsoft technologies to create a modern data warehouse

About James Serra

James is a big data and data warehousing solution architect at Microsoft. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 25 years of IT experience.
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