Microsoft's New 'Cognitive' Play Strays Onto IBM Watson's Turf

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2016-03-31 Print this article Print
IBM Watson

While there are strong similarities between what Microsoft told developers at Build and what IBM offers via its Watson Analytics services and platform, there are also significant differences, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

On the first point, Microsoft's re-branded Cortana Intelligence Suite, including new APIs and related technologies are designed to enable developers to create applications that can leverage a variety of voice, image and gesture inputs to enhance business and commercial processes supported by the company's Azure cloud services, he said.

"That's similar in spirit and practice to IBM's Watson solutions with a couple of critical departures," King said. "First and foremost, while Microsoft spoke fairly generally about their solutions--not surprising, since some of the features and technologies they plan to offer are still in preview, IBM has been quite specific about the evolution of the Watson platform, including detailing the 28 APIs it has created to date--with 50 percent more expected by the end of 2016. In addition, IBM is taking an industry-specific approach in developing and discussing Watson, using example from retail, healthcare, travel and R&D to highlight its capabilities/applicability. Those kinds of examples are thin on the ground at Microsoft, though I expect they'll shape-up over time."

Finally, Watson is certainly the highlight of IBM's cognitive development efforts but it is just one part of a broader cognitive solutions and services portfolio, King argues.

"Right now, the Cortana Intelligence Suite is a shiny centerpiece without a lot of place settings around it," he said. "This isn't meant to knock Microsoft's efforts in any way. The company has deep connections with developer communities, and millions of consumers and business end users depend on the company's products. In other words, there will likely be ready audiences for the company's cognitive solutions when they are ready for market. There are also areas uniquely suited to Microsoft's commercial and intellectual properties, including the Bot Framework for developing cognitive applications leveraging common communications technologies. Given the company's wealth of such assets, including Office 365, Skype and Slack, this is an area where Microsoft could easily impact the marketplace in very big ways."

One Microsoft customer likely to tap into the new cognitive technology is AccuWeather, whose CTO, Christopher Patti, spoke at Build.

"AccuWeather is just one of the customers we’re working with who has immense amounts of data – literally trillions of objects stored inside the Azure storage system and they’re deriving real intelligence from it that changes the lives of millions of people," said Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft's Cloud and Enterprise Group.

"Big data really is the heart of what AccuWeather is," Patti said. "We’re really a big data company – everything starts with data. We’re creating intelligent weather solutions using highly predictive, visual and interactive technology with [Microsoft] Azure as the foundation. In fact, we’re now taking 15 billion data requests everyday worldwide and that’s resulting in two trillion storage objects all inside an Azure data lake."

Patti explained that weather data is complex; it is actually one of the original big data challenges, due to the size, scale, location and real-time requirement of the content.

"And with Microsoft Azure we’re able to scale instantly and have absolute reliability, which is critical when severe weather hits," he said. "Using other Microsoft products such as machine learning and Bing Predicts basically allow us to provide very important content to our end users as fast as possible and allows us to create individual solutions that are targeted to their individual markets."

Patti also noted that AccuWeather serves more than 200 of the Fortune 500 companies, and the company's goal is them data-driven solutions based on accurate weather information.

"We’re streamlining the processing of all that big data using Azure Data Factory, and that’s allowed us to really innovate in what we bring to our customers," he said. "We’re also about to announce a Power BI pack to allow the world’s most accurate and detailed weather information to be brought to a large global audience in a product everyone is familiar with."

Although provided ample time to respond to an eWEEK query, IBM, which last year acquired the Weather Company, did not provide a comment for this story in time for publication.


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