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Microsoft fires up Stage Two of its cloud computing plans for space

Two years after AWS kicked off the extension of cloud computing into space, Microsoft is detailing plans for services and partnerships that link satellites and data centers.

Microsoft fires up Stage Two of its cloud computing plans for space

The Azure Modular Datacenter is a trailer-sized collection of servers and networking equipment that will be able to link up with Azure-powered satellites in space for internet connectivity.

Photo: Microsoft

Building on the announcement of Azure Orbital last month, on Tuesday Microsoft plans to unveil a much broader strategy for linking its earth-based cloud computing servers and networking technology with satellites orbiting the earth. Azure Space will be led by two recent hires from U.S. government agencies focused on space exploration and development, and partners such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and satellite giant SES are also on board.

The company is also introducing the Azure Modular Datacenter, a trailer-sized collection of servers and networking equipment that will be able to link up with Azure-powered satellites in space for internet connectivity. The idea is to bring mini data centers to difficult terrain around the world, building on Microsoft's underwater data center experiment, Project Natick.

"What used to solely be the bastion of governments, the innovation developed by private space companies has democratized access to space, and the use of space to create new scenarios and opportunities that meet the needs of both the public and private sector," said Tom Keane, corporate vice president for Azure Global, in a prerecorded video announcing the new effort. "At Microsoft, we intend to make Azure the platform and ecosystem of choice for the mission needs of the space community."

Microsoft's Azure Space announcement comes almost two years after cloud leader AWS first introduced plans for ground-to-space cloud computing services, kicking off a new type of "space race" between the two neighbors on either side of Lake Washington.

There's no question that in the wake of SpaceX's parade of successful private space launches, commercial interest in space has never been higher. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns a side business in space transportation and logistics called Blue Origin, and traditional aerospace companies like Boeing and Northrup Grunman are also expanding their horizons when it comes to orbital and suborbital activity.

Image: Microsoft

Azure Orbital, unveiled at the company's Ignite conference last month, is a ground station service similar to what AWS unveiled in late 2018. Ground stations are used by satellite operators to communicate with the vast array of sensors and navigation equipment on a modern satellite, and both AWS and Microsoft are setting up ground stations with massive antennas near their existing networks of cloud data centers to give public and private space organizations cheaper options than building and operating their own ground stations.

Azure Space is a broader effort, similar to the Aerospace & Satellite Solutions business unit launched earlier this year by AWS. Microsoft's approach will start with the Modular Datacenter as well as partnerships with SpaceX, SES and several other satellite companies that provide various connectivity options between satellites orbiting the earth at different heights and earth-based data centers and networks.

The Modular Datacenter was designed for "a wide range of climates and harsh conditions," and can operate without a steady internet connection. Customers will be able to connect the MDC to traditional networks, but it will also be able to access satellite network options as a primary or backup option.

Microsoft operates the largest number of cloud data center regions among the major vendors, but there are lots of places on earth where it is far too challenging and expensive to set up the massive complexes that power Azure's cloud services. The MDC can be towed to remote areas and comes with all the cooling infrastructure needed to run a modern bank of servers.

Azure Space will be led by Stephen Kitay, who joined Microsoft in September after playing a central role setting up the U.S. Space Force, and Chirag Parikh, who directed space policy for the Obama administration as a member of the National Security Council.

App store laws, Microsoft AR and Square buys Tidal

Welcome to this weekend's Source Code podcast.

Cole Burston/Bloomberg

This week on the Source Code podcast: First, an update on Google's user-tracking change. Then, Ben Pimentel joins the show to discuss Square buying Tidal, and what it means for the fintech and music worlds. Later, Emily Birnbaum explains the bill moving through the Arizona legislature that has Google and Apple worried about the future of app stores. And finally, Janko Roettgers discusses Microsoft Mesh, the state of AR and VR headsets, and when we're all going to be doing meetings as holograms.

For more on the topics in this episode:

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David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

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The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

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Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Protocol | Enterprise

Tony Bates hears the call at Genesys

Running a contact center company isn't as sexy as his previous gigs. But this company could be the best chance for him to make a lasting mark.

Tony Bates arrived at Genesys as CEO after hopscotching through various parts of the tech industry.

Photo: Genesys

Be careful what you wish for. For Tony Bates, that's been running a big tech company.

He rose to Cisco's top ranks but didn't get the No. 1 job. His big CEO break was at Skype when it was poised to go public — but months into that gig, Bates' venture backers sold it to Microsoft instead. After a stint at Microsoft, where some eyed Bates for the CEO job that went to Satya Nadella, he took over GoPro. There, he got cut in a round of layoffs as the camera company struggled. He joined Social Capital, which helped fund Slack and Box, for a gig that lasted a year before tech investor Chamath Palihapitiya blew up the venture capital firm he started.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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Google wants to help you get a life

Digital car windows, curved AR glasses, automatic presentations and other patents from Big Tech.

A new patent from Google offers a few suggestions.

Image: USPTO

Another week has come to pass, meaning it's time again for Big Tech patents! You've hopefully been busy reading all the new Manual Series stories that have come out this week and are now looking forward to hearing what comes after what comes next. Google wants to get rid of your double-chin selfie videos and find things for you as you sit bored at home; Apple wants to bring translucent displays to car windows; and Microsoft is exploring how much you can stress out a virtual assistant.

And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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