Power

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.

Climate

New Jersey could become an ocean energy hub

A first-in-the-nation bill would support wave and tidal energy as a way to meet the Garden State's climate goals.

Technological challenges mean wave and tidal power remain generally more expensive than their other renewable counterparts. But government support could help spur more innovation that brings down cost.

Photo: Jeremy Bishop via Unsplash

Move over, solar and wind. There’s a new kid on the renewable energy block: waves and tides.

Harnessing the ocean’s power is still in its early stages, but the industry is poised for a big legislative boost, with the potential for real investment down the line.

Keep Reading Show less
Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a senior reporter at Protocol covering climate. Lisa previously wrote for Morning Consult, Chemical Watch and the Associated Press. Lisa is currently based in Brooklyn, and is originally from the Bay Area. Find her on Twitter ( @l_m_j_) or reach out via email (ljenkins@protocol.com).

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Entertainment

Watch 'Stranger Things,' play Neon White and more weekend recs

Don’t know what to do this weekend? We’ve got you covered.

Here are our picks for your long weekend.

Image: Annapurna Interactive; Wizard of the Coast; Netflix

Kick off your long weekend with an extra-long two-part “Stranger Things” finale; a deep dive into the deckbuilding games like Magic: The Gathering; and Neon White, which mashes up several genres, including a dating sim.

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Fintech

Debt fueled crypto mining’s boom — and now, its bust

Leverage helped mining operations expand as they borrowed against their hardware or the crypto it generated.

Dropping crypto prices have upended the economics of mining.

Photo: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin boomed, crypto mining seemed almost like printing money. But in reality, miners have always had to juggle the cost of hardware, electricity and operations against the tokens their work yielded. Often miners held onto their crypto, betting it would appreciate, or borrowed against it to buy more mining rigs. Now all those bills are coming due: The industry has accumulated as much as $4 billion in debt, according to some estimates.

The crypto boom encouraged excess. “The approach was get rich quick, build it big, build it fast, use leverage. Do it now,” said Andrew Webber, founder and CEO at crypto mining service provider Digital Power Optimization.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Policy

How lax social media policies help fuel a prescription drug boom

Prescription drug ads are all over TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. As the potential harms become clear, why haven’t the companies updated their advertising policies?

Even as providers like Cerebral draw federal attention, Meta’s and TikTok’s advertising policies still allow telehealth providers to turbocharge their marketing efforts.

Illustration: Overearth/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In the United States, prescription drug advertisements are as commonplace as drive-thru lanes and Pete Davidson relationship updates. We’re told every day — often multiple times a day — to ask our doctor if some new medication is right for us. Saturday Night Live has for decades parodied the breathless parade of side effect warnings tacked onto drug commercials. Here in New York, even our subway swipes are subsidized by advertisements that deliver the good news: We can last longer in bed and keep our hair, if only we turn to the latest VC-backed telehealth service.

The U.S. is almost alone in embracing direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements. Nations as disparate as Saudi Arabia, France and China all find common ground in banning such ads. In fact, of all developed nations, only New Zealand joins the U.S. in giving pharmaceutical companies a direct line to consumers.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins