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Microsoft is committed to ensuring our men and women in uniform and in the intelligence community have access to the best available technology today. During our the recent three-day Virtual National Security Symposium, Microsoft Federal and our partners showcased many of the new and emerging technologies we have developed to help the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and national security agencies defend our nation and meet important missions. There was a lot covered during the symposium, and I want to share a few key highlights that stood out to me.

Microsoft Azure continues to lead

Microsoft Azure serves as the foundation of our cloud services – enabling defense partners access to innovative technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to help make decisionmakers address complex challenges anywhere. As Tom Keane, Microsoft corporate vice president of Azure Global, explain in his session, “Computing is ubiquitous … you have the ability to perform computing all the way from the edge to hyper-scale computing in the cloud,” he explained. “Our goal is to help you solve your hardest problems and to provide the computing that you need, wherever you need it, with the elasticity, the security and the reliability that you would expect.”

With over 61 Azure worldwide regions – more than any other cloud provider – 130,000-plus miles of ground or below-sea fiber, and increasing edge sites, Keane reinforced that Azure is the mission-critical cloud for national security. “The scale and scope of [Microsoft’s] investment is … billions of dollars to support your mission.” He also noted Microsoft’s cloud platform spans commercial, government and secret capabilities, with top secret currently in the final stages of accreditation. “Our commitment is to [deliver] cloud technology connected to the appropriate networks to support the full spectrum of your data,” he told the audience, identifying Azure cloud’s promises of always available, always secure, trusted and compliant, always monitored and third-party enabled. Keane closed with overviews of Azure hybrid, tactical edge and Azure Space capabilities, touching on the recent Azure connection to the International Space Station.

AI for Mission

There’s a lot of talk about AI, but Microsoft’s Andy Hickl led a session on AI that matters, or in his words, “The AI that we need to support mission operations – from the analyst, to the specialist to the war fighter and back again.” He said AI is “having its moment now” due to the convergence of algorithms, compute and data along with research community consolidation and today’s scale of operations. He noted that Microsoft’s “AI stack” is integrated across all products, such as Teams, the Power Platform and Azure.

Microsoft and our partners are committed to building AI for Mission, operating under the principles of: available anywhere, integrate data silos across domains, adapt to emerging threats, preserve model integrity, operate autonomously, support complex decision-making, explain findings and simulate real-world operations in stunning detail. “We’re committed to building the tech, the products and solutions, the accelerators that you ultimately need,” Hickl said.

Examples of bringing innovations to mission owners

Microsoft’s Jason Henderson, Aaron Lind and Harshal Dharia shared three compelling Azure use-case presentations:

  • Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD): This virtual desktop infrastructure is a fully managed service within Azure. “The biggest thing that I see as valuable with WVD is delivering the only multisession Windows 10 experience on the market,” Henderson said. “With a single operating system of Windows 10, you can actually have one virtual machine running [with] multiple users logging in to that same desktop, each with their own profile.” In addition to reducing costs, he noted WVD “deploys and scales in minutes,” includes free Windows 7 extended security updates and blends the security of several Microsoft products to create a compliant, zero-trust environment. Henderson noted that most DOD customers already own Microsoft licenses to run WVD.
  • Azure AI: “Machine learning on Azure is really a cornucopia of technological prowess,” Lind said, providing “limitless scale” and productivity-first capabilities that enable data scientists to take advantage of popular frameworks. He explained how Azure Machine Learning democratizes access to AI for mission authors of all skill levels and Azure Cognitive Services – made up of APIs for language, vision, speech and decision capabilities – provide “that intelligence to the mission, to your war fighter.”
  • For the DOD and national security agencies using WVD, Azure AI and other solutions, Dharia said digital transformation is more about “how do we actually innovate and … bring those innovations to our mission owners faster and keep [them] available for longer?” His guidance for driving innovation:
    • Rely on organizational collaboration.
    • Shift security to the left, so that “developers are thinking about security.”
    • Leverage a hyper-scale cloud like Azure to improve applications and enable low-code application creation, which Dharia called “the biggest trend in the market right now.”

Meeting the needs of the servicemembers

Another key session featured Microsoft’s Michael Farrell providing an overview of our rugged edge devices. “Our edge platform has been designed from the ground up to meet the needs of the war fighter,” he said. Farrell detailed how Microsoft’s comprehensive approach offers unique Azure Arc-enabled hybrid capabilities, giving mission users “the flexibility to innovate and meet demanding requirements anywhere in the world.” He outlined the Azure edge portfolio, spanning Azure Sphere, Azure IoT devices, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Stack Edge, Azure Stack Hub and our global hyperscale cloud, from Azure Government to Azure Government Secret to Azure Government Top Secret.

We were also honored to be joined by Maj. Gen. Anthony Potts, the U.S. Army’s program executive officer lead for Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) project. The Army recently announced they are working with Microsoft to move IVAS development from rapid prototyping to production and rapid fielding. Gen. Potts spoke about the unique partnership between the Army and Microsoft to advance this project, “From a military perspective, we tend to have a habit of going back into the files, grabbing something that looks, smells and feels like what somebody asked us to do and try to recreate something or shift off of a known point.”

“With IVAS, we absolutely made the decision not to do that,” said Maj Gen. Potts. “What we did was this iterative approach. Microsoft calls it ‘human-centered design’ and we call it ‘Soldier-centered design’. But its something we really borrowed from Microsoft as we put our teams together.”

Ensuring our nation’s security

This is just a fraction of the fascinating projects our team and customers reviewed at the Symposium – and an even briefer glimpse of what Microsoft Federal and our partners can deliver to extend U.S. cloud-powered innovation and defense and intelligence capabilities. Our goal was to spark the imagination of Symposium attendees from the defense, intelligence and national security community, and we remain committed to partnering with them to enable their missions, inspire their innovation and deliver next-generation cloud solutions to ensure our nation’s security.

For more information and to access on-demand content, please visit the Microsoft Virtual National Security Symposium 2021 page.