Never before has the need for businesses to make progress along their digital journeys been more pressing—with more options to evaluate, urgencies to respond to, and complexities to understand in a complex landscape. Shifting demands, fueled in part by the covid-19 pandemic, have driven the need for businesses to make the leap to digitization at a pace never seen before. IDC estimates that as early as 2022, 46% of enterprise products and services will be digitally delivered, creating pressure on companies to pursue new ways of expediting digital transformation. Forward-thinking leaders have started this journey, ushering in a massive migration to the cloud, which serves as the heartbeat of digital transformation and establishes the foundation for future innovation.
But if digital transformation were easy, then every organization would be doing it. Instead, three common challenges occur and can often stand in the way of an organization’s progress:
Multiple cloud architectures. Apps and data continue to increase and reside in diverse clouds. Managing them to provide reduced latency, availability, and data sovereignty remains a complex undertaking.
Balancing old with new. In some cases, the urgent and rapid migration to the cloud has been costly. Applications or workloads that were moved to the cloud may have been better suited in a local environment. Businesses need more flexibility to update their legacy apps to become cloud-native over time. Simultaneously, on-premises infrastructure needs to be modernized to make it more performant, scalable, and efficient—in effect, to make it more cloud-like.
Security. The modern workforce is more decentralized, increasing the attack surface for organizations. This requires a new and dynamic security strategy that is holistic.
So, what’s the answer for enterprises to tackle these challenges? A pragmatic foundation for a modern digital infrastructure is hybrid cloud. It optimizes application deployments across locations, providing the ultimate level of agility based on changing business requirements. The on-premises side of hybrid cloud is best deployed via hyperconverged infrastructure, or HCI, which enables modernization that eases the transition by blending old and new.
By fusing virtualized compute and storage resources together with intelligent software on standard server hardware, this approach creates flexible building blocks intended to replace or optimize legacy infrastructure while providing greater agility. With this approach, many parts are brought together to offer a version of cloud infrastructure that features dynamic scalability and simplified operations.
Achieving agility through hybrid cloud
Delivering high levels of performance is a requirement for IT environments that rely on mission-critical databases and latency-sensitive applications. This is especially important in dynamic environments where data growth is constant and continuous access is a requirement, often compounded by demand for new analyses and insights. The ability to easily meet these performance and scalability requirements is essential for any business deploying hyperconverged infrastructures.
Microsoft and Intel are working together to take the best of software and combine it with the best of hardware technologies to provide organizations with a flexible infrastructure that can handle today’s demands with agility and set the pace for digital transformation.
Flexibility coupled with seamless management
Solving for the challenge of navigating and streamlining multiple cloud architectures requires a control plane that offers simplified management of both on-premises and public cloud-based resources. The hybrid offering available via Azure Stack HCI (delivered as a service) provides a comprehensive answer for this challenge. With Azure Stack HCI and integrated services such as Azure Arc, you can easily manage and govern on-premises resources, together with Azure public cloud resources, from a single control plane.
Any viable hybrid cloud offering needs to decrease complexity through simplified management, while increasing agility, scalability, and performance. You can maintain existing operations and scale at a pace that best suits your requirements with optimized on-premises hardware and legacy functionality and improved workload virtualization. Azure Stack HCI effectivelybalances old with new, supporting on-premises operations evolution to become part of your cloud operating model, from the core data center to the edge and the cloud.
Seamless management also includes maintaining a holistic and comprehensive security posture so that associated risks can be managed without sacrificing effectiveness. As computing complexity increases across the data center, edge, and cloud, it can increase those risks if not addressed. Security must go hand in hand with digital transformation. Intel and Microsoft are leading the way with a trusted foundation, from the software down to the silicon layer. We’ll soon be announcing multiple new technologies to secure data at rest and in use, and we’ll dive deeper on data protection and compliance in the next article in this series.
A hardware foundation to handle the digitization of everything
As we continue to see increased reliance on analytics tools and AI for data insights to manage operations and customer touchpoints, the importance of semiconductors continues to grow. This digital surge is increasing the demands for more compute power—suddenly, an organization’s infrastructure has evolved from tactical to the epicenter of new strategic business opportunities.
Creating a hardware infrastructure that flexes with business demands is one of the keys to unlocking the potential of an agile hybrid cloud that can move workloads across different environments with speed and ease. Intel’s mission is to provide the best technology foundation with built-in capabilities across performance, AI, and security that unleashes new business opportunities today and in the future. At the center of this foundation are 3rd Gen Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors.
Intel and Microsoft are working together to reduce the time required to evaluate, select, and purchase, streamlining the time to deploy new infrastructure by using technologies that are fully integrated, tested, and ready to perform. As evidence of this, Microsoft and Intel recently battle-tested Azure Stack HCI on the latest Intel technologies, showcasing 2.62 million SQL Server new orders per minute, one of the most popular workloads among enterprises. These optimized configurations are available as Intel® Select Solutions for Azure Stack HCI from multiple server OEM and scale partners.
Serving the needs of dynamic IT environments
It has never been a more dynamic time for businesses; the time to embrace hybrid cloud is now. Azure Stack HCI is charting a new and easy path to hybrid, with Intel as the technology foundation to modernize and turn infrastructure into strategic advantage.
If you’re ready to optimize manageability, performance, and costs while integrating on-premises data center and edge infrastructures into your hybrid and multi-cloud environment, learn more about Azure Stack HCI today.
Check out the latest Intel-based Azure Stack HCI systems and continuous innovation on Azure.com/HCI. While there, download the software, which Microsoft has made available for a 60-day free trial.
This content was produced by Microsoft Azure and Intel. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.
The hunter-gatherer groups at the heart of a microbiome gold rush
The first step to finding out is to catalogue what microbes we might have lost. To get as close to ancient microbiomes as possible, microbiologists have begun studying multiple Indigenous groups. Two have received the most attention: the Yanomami of the Amazon rainforest and the Hadza, in northern Tanzania.
Researchers have made some startling discoveries already. A study by Sonnenburg and his colleagues, published in July, found that the gut microbiomes of the Hadza appear to include bugs that aren’t seen elsewhere—around 20% of the microbe genomes identified had not been recorded in a global catalogue of over 200,000 such genomes. The researchers found 8.4 million protein families in the guts of the 167 Hadza people they studied. Over half of them had not previously been identified in the human gut.
Plenty of other studies published in the last decade or so have helped build a picture of how the diets and lifestyles of hunter-gatherer societies influence the microbiome, and scientists have speculated on what this means for those living in more industrialized societies. But these revelations have come at a price.
A changing way of life
The Hadza people hunt wild animals and forage for fruit and honey. “We still live the ancient way of life, with arrows and old knives,” says Mangola, who works with the Olanakwe Community Fund to support education and economic projects for the Hadza. Hunters seek out food in the bush, which might include baboons, vervet monkeys, guinea fowl, kudu, porcupines, or dik-dik. Gatherers collect fruits, vegetables, and honey.
Mangola, who has met with multiple scientists over the years and participated in many research projects, has witnessed firsthand the impact of such research on his community. Much of it has been positive. But not all researchers act thoughtfully and ethically, he says, and some have exploited or harmed the community.
One enduring problem, says Mangola, is that scientists have tended to come and study the Hadza without properly explaining their research or their results. They arrive from Europe or the US, accompanied by guides, and collect feces, blood, hair, and other biological samples. Often, the people giving up these samples don’t know what they will be used for, says Mangola. Scientists get their results and publish them without returning to share them. “You tell the world [what you’ve discovered]—why can’t you come back to Tanzania to tell the Hadza?” asks Mangola. “It would bring meaning and excitement to the community,” he says.
Some scientists have talked about the Hadza as if they were living fossils, says Alyssa Crittenden, a nutritional anthropologist and biologist at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, who has been studying and working with the Hadza for the last two decades.
The Hadza have been described as being “locked in time,” she adds, but characterizations like that don’t reflect reality. She has made many trips to Tanzania and seen for herself how life has changed. Tourists flock to the region. Roads have been built. Charities have helped the Hadza secure land rights. Mangola went abroad for his education: he has a law degree and a master’s from the Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy program at the University of Arizona.
The Download: a microbiome gold rush, and Eric Schmidt’s election misinformation plan
Over the last couple of decades, scientists have come to realize just how important the microbes that crawl all over us are to our health. But some believe our microbiomes are in crisis—casualties of an increasingly sanitized way of life. Disturbances in the collections of microbes we host have been associated with a whole host of diseases, ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer’s.
Some might not be completely gone, though. Scientists believe many might still be hiding inside the intestines of people who don’t live in the polluted, processed environment that most of the rest of us share. They’ve been studying the feces of people like the Yanomami, an Indigenous group in the Amazon, who appear to still have some of the microbes that other people have lost.
But there is a major catch: we don’t know whether those in hunter-gatherer societies really do have “healthier” microbiomes—and if they do, whether the benefits could be shared with others. At the same time, members of the communities being studied are concerned about the risk of what’s called biopiracy—taking natural resources from poorer countries for the benefit of wealthier ones. Read the full story.
Eric Schmidt has a 6-point plan for fighting election misinformation
—by Eric Schmidt, formerly the CEO of Google, and current cofounder of philanthropic initiative Schmidt Futures
The coming year will be one of seismic political shifts. Over 4 billion people will head to the polls in countries including the United States, Taiwan, India, and Indonesia, making 2024 the biggest election year in history.
Navigating a shifting customer-engagement landscape with generative AI
A strategic imperative
Generative AI’s ability to harness customer data in a highly sophisticated manner means enterprises are accelerating plans to invest in and leverage the technology’s capabilities. In a study titled “The Future of Enterprise Data & AI,” Corinium Intelligence and WNS Triange surveyed 100 global C-suite leaders and decision-makers specializing in AI, analytics, and data. Seventy-six percent of the respondents said that their organizations are already using or planning to use generative AI.
According to McKinsey, while generative AI will affect most business functions, “four of them will likely account for 75% of the total annual value it can deliver.” Among these are marketing and sales and customer operations. Yet, despite the technology’s benefits, many leaders are unsure about the right approach to take and mindful of the risks associated with large investments.
Mapping out a generative AI pathway
One of the first challenges organizations need to overcome is senior leadership alignment. “You need the necessary strategy; you need the ability to have the necessary buy-in of people,” says Ayer. “You need to make sure that you’ve got the right use case and business case for each one of them.” In other words, a clearly defined roadmap and precise business objectives are as crucial as understanding whether a process is amenable to the use of generative AI.
The implementation of a generative AI strategy can take time. According to Ayer, business leaders should maintain a realistic perspective on the duration required for formulating a strategy, conduct necessary training across various teams and functions, and identify the areas of value addition. And for any generative AI deployment to work seamlessly, the right data ecosystems must be in place.
Ayer cites WNS Triange’s collaboration with an insurer to create a claims process by leveraging generative AI. Thanks to the new technology, the insurer can immediately assess the severity of a vehicle’s damage from an accident and make a claims recommendation based on the unstructured data provided by the client. “Because this can be immediately assessed by a surveyor and they can reach a recommendation quickly, this instantly improves the insurer’s ability to satisfy their policyholders and reduce the claims processing time,” Ayer explains.
All that, however, would not be possible without data on past claims history, repair costs, transaction data, and other necessary data sets to extract clear value from generative AI analysis. “Be very clear about data sufficiency. Don’t jump into a program where eventually you realize you don’t have the necessary data,” Ayer says.
The benefits of third-party experience
Enterprises are increasingly aware that they must embrace generative AI, but knowing where to begin is another thing. “You start off wanting to make sure you don’t repeat mistakes other people have made,” says Ayer. An external provider can help organizations avoid those mistakes and leverage best practices and frameworks for testing and defining explainability and benchmarks for return on investment (ROI).
Using pre-built solutions by external partners can expedite time to market and increase a generative AI program’s value. These solutions can harness pre-built industry-specific generative AI platforms to accelerate deployment. “Generative AI programs can be extremely complicated,” Ayer points out. “There are a lot of infrastructure requirements, touch points with customers, and internal regulations. Organizations will also have to consider using pre-built solutions to accelerate speed to value. Third-party service providers bring the expertise of having an integrated approach to all these elements.”