If enterprises aren't already drowning in data, they soon will be.
That's the message Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, had for attendees of the Redmond, Wash. technology giant's annual shareholder meeting on Nov. 30. Society will produce 180 zettabytes of data by 2025, he said. A single zettabyte is equivalent to a billion terabytes or a million petabytes.
"In fact, we're running out of words to describe the number of bytes we're gathering," Nadella said. His company's goal is to furnish its customers with software and services that help turn that data into actionable insights and intelligence that enable digital transformation. To accomplish this, the software maker is betting big on artificial intelligence (AI).
Nadella noted that AI is being implemented across Microsoft's product portfolio, predicting and automating tasks for users. Examples include Skype Translator, Windows Hello's face recognition, the predictive SwiftKey keyboard for iOS and Android, and of course Cortana, the company's voice-enabled digital assistant.
"What makes our efforts unique, though, is how we take these AI capabilities that we built for our own first-party products and democratize the access to them to customers and partners to build solutions to the biggest challenges in healthcare, agriculture, finance, government… every sector of our economy and society," Nadella said.
Workplace collaboration is another area Microsoft is focused on.
Nadella pointed to the deep integrations between Office 365 and its Dynamics 365 business application platform, enabling businesses to imbue their customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) workflows with team-based collaboration and problem solving. He also called the pending LinkedIn buy an "opportunity to connect the world's professional cloud and the world's professional network."
In June, Microsoft announced it was acquiring the business- and career-focused social network for $26 billion. Currently, the companies are awaiting the European Union's approval for the buyout process to continue.
Finally, no conversation about Microsoft's future is complete without mentioning the cloud.
Microsoft may actually be playing catch up since Amazon leads the cloud computing market by a wide margin – but the Azure cloud has turned into a big revenue driver for the company.
Nadella reminded that its commercial cloud now boasts an annual run rate of $13 billion and that his company is on track of growing that figure to $20 billion by fiscal 2018. More than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies use at least three of Microsoft's cloud products, he added.
To keep that momentum going, he said, the company continues to expand its physical cloud infrastructure footprint, which now encompasses data centers situated in 38 regions spread across the globe.
A smarter cloud awaits, Nadella said. Microsoft is building "Azure as the world's first AI supercomputer," he said on stage, repeating his announcement during September's Ignite conference.
"Researchers at Virginia Tech are already using Azure to accelerate genome sequencing and we are just at the very beginning of the possibilities of advancements in AI and what they can bring about to customers."