Microsoft Tips Project Volterra Arm Hardware for Hybrid AI Development

At Microsoft Build 2022, the software giant’s annual developer conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled new ways programmers can take advantage of AI and hybrid computing, new tools to help them do so, and a new hardware box called Volterra for code development.

At the once-again online-only event kicked off with the Imagine Cup(Opens in a new window) student programming competition awards for young coders around the world. But the company also announced new ways to leverage its Teams collaboration platform and Windows 11 operating system. Of course, the metaverse got some play, too, as it’s perhaps the hottest topic in tech of late, but Microsoft focuses on its workplace use cases.

What Is Microsoft’s Project Volterra?

Microsoft Project Volterra

Project Volterra is a development platform based on Qualcomm Snapdragon that leverages a new Qualcomm Neural Processing SDK for Windows toolkit. Its use of this Arm processor points to Microsoft looking in a similar direction as Apple, though there was still plenty of evidence of Intel Silicon at the show, too. Microsoft has produced an amusingly (Apple-style) over-the-top video about the new device, as you can see below:

The availability of Azure DCsv3 virtual machines with Intel Software Guard Extensions was also announced. According to documentation provided to the press, these offer “app-level confidentiality through enclaves and Multi Key Total Memory Encryption (MK-TME), with up to 48 physical cores and a 12-times increase in memory.”

The device is made using recycled ocean plastic, features all the ports you’d want, and can be stacked for rack mounting.

The Hybrid Loop

One buzzterm used by Nadella is the hybrid loop. A form of hybrid computing, it’s a strategy for sharing processing—particularly machine learning processing—between cloud and local processing. It’s implemented by Microsoft’s Onnx Runtime and Azure ML engine and coded to use what the company calls its Prototype AI toolchain. The following diagram from Build illustrates the process:

Microsoft's Hybrid Loop

Code in this loop can take advantage of four different components to do its work: the CPU, the GPU, an NPU (neural processing unit), and FPGA (field-programmable gate array—basically a programmable AI processor). Any of these can be in local hardware or take advantage of cloud compute from Azure.

Nadella said that Windows 365 with Azure Virtual Computing would remove the boundary between the device and the cloud, allowing Windows applications to be accessed on any device. On Windows 11, you can now even switch between the local PC and the cloud version of Windows.

Another announcement at the show is Microsoft Dev Box. This comprises an IT-managed high-performance, cloud-based workstation that developers can tap into for their projects.

A new entry in Microsoft’s low-code offerings is Power Pages(Opens in a new window), a low-code tool for building secure business websites. Satya showed video of nonprogrammers building a site for Ukraine Live Aid in Portugal.

A metavers virtual watercooler in Teams Mesh

A metaverse virtual watercooler in Mesh for Teams.

Nadella showed video of some of Microsoft’s metaverse ambitions, with coworker avatars in virtual workspaces in Mesh for Teams, including a “virtual water cooler.” Azure developers can use this functionality in their own apps; it’s not a Teams-only feature.

Kawasaki using HoloLens and Microsoft Azure Percept

Kawasaki using HoloLens and Microsoft Azure Percept.

HoloLens got some play in the presentation, with robot developers at Kawasaki using Azure Percept to detect mechanical breakdowns.

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Microsoft Store on Windows 11

Microsoft Store on Windows 11

At Build, Microsoft Chief Product Officer Panos Panay put the case to developers for new ways they could target and profit from Windows 11, especially with Widgets and the Microsoft Store.

He announced new application development tools, mostly surrounding AI techniques, and updates to Windows 11’s Linux and Android subsytems. According to Panay, “the latest Windows App SDK 1.1update is in preview and will be released soon, with new features like Fluent visual materials in WinUI 3, updated desktop windowing APIs, enhancements to push notifications, new environment variable APIs for C++, and various performance improvements.” The Windows Subsystem for Android now supports Android Open Source Project 12.1.

Also released was the .NET Multi-platform App UI (.NET MAUI) 1.0. This tool “helps you build apps that can run on Android, iOS, macOS and Windows from a shared codebase, and is built on top of WinUI 3 when running on Windows.” So Microsoft developer tools are designed to ease app creation not just for Windows, but also for Android and iOS. Another way to do that is to use PWAs (progressive web apps), with the Windows version of these now allowing custom title bars and URL protocol handler registration.

Widgets in Windows 11 came with a promise, unrealized to this point, that third-party developers would be able to create widgets based on their apps, similar to how they work on iOS. Panay announced that the capability would come to Win32 and PWA apps later this year, using Adaptive Cards(Opens in a new window). Panay alluded to an upcoming capability for apps to manipulate standard Windows features like File Explorer. He also announced that developers would be able to use Store ads and that the Amazon Appstore will appear in non-US markets.

In another nod to Arm, Panay announced that a whole suite of development tools will now be Arm-native, including: Visual Studio 2022, Visual C++, Modern .NET 6 and Java, Classic .NET Framework, Windows Terminal, WSL for running Linux, and WSA for Android apps.

That’s just a taste of some highlights of the show: In all, over 50 new products and features will be announced for the 80,000+ registered attendants over 400 sessions and 125 hours of content. Much of this will center on Azure cloud services, database tech, Teams collaboration, low-code development using Microsoft Power Apps, hybrid, and AI.

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