Microsoft Azure Gains Smarter Search, Hybrid Cloud Test Environments

In its latest batch of Azure updates, Microsoft introduces personalized search and new hybrid cloud test environments.

Azure Search hybrid cloud

Microsoft wants to help customers of its cloud-based "search-as-a-service" offering, dubbed simply Azure Search, deliver more relevant results to their users.

Azure Search first launched as a preview on Aug. 21, 2014, along with Azure DocumentDB, the company's stab at NoSQL document storage services.

Liam Cavanagh, senior program manager of Azure Search, announced that his team has added a new capability to the service's scoring profile feature, which ranks search results depending on the parameters set by developers. The new function, available as part of an experimental application programming interface (API), called tag scoring, enables customers to fine-tune results to match a user's personal preferences.

In an e-commerce context, "you could use the purchase history of your customers to produce tags for each of them, you could use machine learning/clustering techniques to group and tag them based on what they've put in their shopping carts, or even manually tag them," said Cavanagh in a Feb. 5 company blog post detailing the new feature. Business applications can also benefit, he claimed.

Tag scoring can improve productivity by delivering more relevant results from the start. For example, "in line-of-business applications used by different departments, you can use the user's department as a query tag and boost documents (e.g., customer records, marketing campaigns, contact information, whatever you're indexing) most related to their particular area of work, assuming each document has an 'area' or 'areas' field that captures the affinity of each document to one or more areas," he said.

The functionality parallels Microsoft's own efforts to leverage cloud and machine-learning technologies to deliver more context-aware Office 365 experiences in the workplace. On Sept. 9, the company launched Office Delve, an application with built-in search capabilities, which automatically surfaces content and information based on a user's role, responsibilities and current projects.

Azure Search tag scoring is now enabled across all services, but it is "only accessible using the experimental 2014-10-20-Preview API version since we're still collecting feedback on the approach," he cautioned.

Hybrid Cloud Dev/Test

Addressing the needs of organizations that are considering a hybrid cloud-based development and testing setup, Microsoft has published documentation on four new hybrid cloud test environments. "These environments use your local Internet connection and one of your public IP addresses and step you through setting up a functioning, cross-premises Azure virtual network," explained Joe Davies, a Microsoft senior content developer, in a separate Feb. 5 blog post.

"When complete, you can begin performing application development, experimenting with simplified IT workloads, and gauge the performance of a site-to-site VPN connection relative to your location on the Internet," continued Davies.

Test scenarios include a generalized hybrid cloud environment, a SharePoint intranet farm, a Web-based line-of-business application and Office 365 Directory Synchronization (DirSync). "With these new topics, you can create dev/test environments or proof-of-concept configurations for hybrid cloud-based IT workloads. You can also use these environments to experiment with Azure features," said Davies.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...