TORONTO — Microsoft is ringing in the new decade with some significant announcements for the Canadian market.
At its Envision event in Toronto, which is targeted at business leaders seeking insights from Microsoft experts – the event is also wrapped into its Ignite event which provides technical training led by Microsoft experts – Microsoft announced its first Canadian Azure Availability Zone and an Azure ExpressRoute in Vancouver.
Azure ExpressRoutes, a service that provides a private connection between an organization’s on-premises infrastructure and Microsoft Azure data centre, already exist in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City, but it was important the west coast had this offering as well, indicated Corey Sanders, corporate vice-president for Microsoft Solutions.
“It’s pretty critical for organizations working out of Vancouver to be able to have a secure network connection into Azure without having to cross the country,” he explained.
The new ExpressRoute service is set to go live in March.
Availability Zone consists of one or more data centres equipped with independent power, cooling, and networking. Microsoft says it’s the only hyperscale cloud provider in Canada to offer Availability Zones and disaster recovery with in-country data residency.
The new Azure Availability Zone will go live by the end of March, and according to Microsoft, it’s the largest increase in compute capacity since the original launch of Microsoft’s first data centre in Canada in 2016, at 1,300 per cent.
This is good news for the startups and enterprises that are increasingly taking advantage of cloud computing, indicated Henrik Gütle, the general manager of Azure for Microsoft Canada.
“We’re seeing rapid adoption of cloud services in Canada,” he told the publication. “We’re seeing tremendous interest from startups especially those in later stages of seed funding.”
The more than 9,000 channel partners in Canada, said Gütle, will experience a “natural extension” of their capabilities.
And while the seasoned veterans of the channel such as Softchoice and Long View Systems, which have leaned on the Microsoft ecosystem to not only modernize themselves but also their customers and are critical to Microsoft’s ongoing growth in Canada, there’s a noticeable rise in the number of cloud-native partners that have very specific capabilities, he added.
These capabilities were recently on display at the Ingram Micro Cloud Comet Competition in Toronto, where 15 finalists pitched their offerings to the competition’s judges. Some of those judges were from Microsoft, and many of the finalists were pitching cloud-based productivity tools supporting the Microsoft ecosystem.
“We’re seeing more of these born-in-the-cloud companies making great strides in the marketplace,” noted Gütle.
The public sector’s adoption of cloud computing, and increasingly public cloud offerings, is equally impressive, added Sanders.
The City of Ottawa has 110 lines of businesses and its general manager of innovative client services is focused on ensuring citizens can access them however they want.
“We want residents to choose the way we deliver services to them,” explained Valerie Turner in a fireside chat with Microsoft’s Alysa Taylor, the company’s corporate vice-president of business applications and global industry. “The array of services we have is staggering. Currently, we have some capabilities that allow you to access them online, but those requests keep growing as the size of the city grows.”
In November, The City of Ottawa announced a plan to pilot Microsoft’s Power Virtual Agent to increase the accessibility of its 311 services.
Users will be able to enter questions about the city’s services and receive immediate answers in a conversational format. Ottawa will begin piloting its new 311 AI chatbot in the first quarter of 2020.
Sanders also said the city is experimenting with computer vision, which would, for example, allow someone to take a picture of a paint can and get an immediate response about how it should be disposed of.
Microsoft’s latest news comes a couple of months after its biggest competitor announced a third AWS Availability Zone in the country’s central region near Montreal, bringing the total number of computing power hubs to 22.