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Next Gen Microsoft Azure Hyper-threaded VMs, L Series Price Cut, More Announced

Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit updated for better performance and easier use, offering a range of new features that help deploy deep learning at scale.


The first release candidate made available on Monday, bring the improvements that include the addition of more bindings beyond BrainScript, an improved layers library and an enhanced evaluation library.

Those follow several new features introduced in the version 2.0 beta:

  • The ability to extend Cognitive Toolkit functions, learners, trainers and optimizers with your own algorithms in Python, C++.
  • Enhanced, built-in distributed readers for speech, image, and text deep learning tasks.
  • The ability to use TensorBoard visualizations from Cognitive toolkit! Read more here.
  • Pretrained models available for use.
  • Performance improvements.
  • Support of distributed scenarios in Python API. See more in the sections on distributed scenarios in the ConvNet and ResNet examples.
  • Support of Asynchronous Stochastic Gradient Descent (ASGD)/Hogwild! training parallelization support using Microsoft’s Parameter Server (Project Multiverso).
  • Support for training on one-hot and sparse arrays via NumPy.
  • Support of object recognition using Fast R-CNN algorithm.
  • Integration with NVIDIA NCCL, a stand-alone library of standard collective communication routines, such as all-gather, reduce, broadcast, etc., that have been optimized to achieve high bandwidth over PCIe. See how to enable NCCL in the Cognitive Toolkit Wiki.
  • Lambda rank and NDCG at 1 are accessible from Python for real this time.
  • Performance Profiler for BrainScript and Python.
  • Support in training session for cross validation and preservation of all checkpoints.

“The toolkit is a system for deep learning used to speed advances in areas such as speech and image recognition and search relevance. It can be used on-premises or in the cloud with Azure GPUs.”

For more on Cognitive Toolkit NuGet packages, see here.

A new whitepaper published on Monday, is aimed to help customers to achieve a high level of security and data compliance within Internet of Things (IoT) environments.

Microsoft’s IoT offering called Azure IoT Suite, is an enterprise-grade set of services that enable customers to build and deploy an IoT solution quickly.

“At Microsoft, developing secure software is part of our DNA,” writes Azure team. “This new whitepaper brings that experience to bear on how to think of an IoT solution.”

The paper also describes how Microsoft addresses key security, privacy and compliance principles in Azure. Advanced topics include data residency, encryption, and auditing. To download this paper, visti here.

Microsoft on Monday has announced the next generation Hyper-threaded Virtual Machines, for general purpose and memory optimized workloads that are up to 28% lower in prices than the current generation, and the price reductions on L Series to match recent price changes from AWS.

L Series are now available at a reducing prices by 60% to 69% effective April 1st.

L Series offers vms from 4 to 32 vCPUs, based on Intel Xeon processor E5 v3 family with 32 to 256 GiB memory, and from 678 GB to 5.6TB of SSD disk, and are best suited for low latency workloads such as NoSQL databases including Cassandra and MongoDB.

In next few months, Microsoft also introducing new generation of Hyper-Threading Technology VMs for general purpose workloads, Dv3, and a new family for memory optimized workloads, Ev3.

This new generation will introduce sizes with 64 vCPUs on Intel® Broadwell E5-2673 v4 2.3 processor and with 432 GiB of memory on the largest Ev3 sizes.

The new Hyper-Threaded VMs will be priced up to 28% lower than Dv2 Series VMs. And, starting today, you can now provision a Dv2 Promo VM on current generation hardware at lower Dv3 and Ev3 VM prices.

This promotion will be available until the launch of the Dv3 and Ev3 VMs later this year.

Azure Access Control Service (or ACS), a cloud-based service that provides a way of authenticating and authorizing users to gain access to web applications and services is undergoing changes to How Access Control Service Namespaces are Created.

First, stating on June 30, new ACS namespace creation will be restricted, so you’ll need to call Azure customer support while creating an ACS namespace byond this date.

Though, ACS functionality will remain supported for all existing namespace, however, Microsoft advises to explore Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) and Azure AD B2C, as they would natively support many of the scenarios enabled by ACS, Azure team says.

The general availability of Azure Monitor, Microsoft’s built-in platform monitoring service for Azure, that provides all the vital monitoring telemetry including platform- and service-level metrics and logs, with ability to configure alerts to take intelligent actions on that data, and empowers to unlock deeper insights and analytics on top of telemetry through seamless integration with preferred advanced monitoring solutions.

Azure monitor comes with REST APIs, Resource Manager templates, PowerShell cmdlets and Azure CLI support, enabling flexibility in how you consume and configure monitoring capabilities.

The Power BI team has announced the April release of Power BI Desktop, along with a summary of the March service updates:

  • Granular admin controls
  • View related content
  • Improved troubleshooting details for DAX queries
  • Custom scheduled cache refresh controls
  • Support for Amazon Redshift in the service
  • Custom visuals in the Office Store

Here’s a complete list of April updates:

Report view

  • Rename axis titles
  • New matrix visual enhancements: column sorting, column resizing, and word wrapping (preview)


  • Quick measures and show value as (preview)
  • Q&A in Spanish (preview)

Data connectivity

  • Connect to datasets in the Power BI service (preview)
  • Redshift Connector: beta support & publish to Power BI service
  • SAP HANA & BW Connectors: enhancements to parameter input experience

Query editing

  • Add column by example
  • Split column (by delimiter/number of characters) into rows
  • Group by – basic mode
  • Go to column

For more information on updates, watch this video below:

Universal Windows Platform (UWP) Community Toolkit 1.4, available as on Monday introduces improvements for stabilization and accessibility of controls.

UWP Community Toolkit 1.4 includes a new Carousel control, new developer support tools and the ability to use all controls with keyboard, mouse and touch inputs.

Here are a few of the main additions:

  • Carousel: A new control that presents items in a list, where the selected item is always in the center and other items are flowing ­around it. This reacts not only to the content but also to layout changes, so it can adapt to different form factors automatically. The carousel can be horizontal or vertical.
  • ViewExtensions: ApplicationViewExtensions, StatusBarExtensions & TitleBarExtensions provide a declarative way of setting AppView, StatusBar & TitleBar properties from XAML.
  • NetworkHelper: Provides functionality to monitor changes in network connection, and allows users to query for network information without additional lookups.
  • Saturation: Provides a behavior to selectively saturate a XAML element. We also introduced the CompositionBehaviorBase to ease creation of new composition-based behaviors (Blur now uses this).
  • Twitter streaming API support: Twitter Service was missing support for Twitter’s streaming service; we added support for live tweets and events.
  • Search box for Sample App: The new Sample App allows you to search for a sample directly from the main menu.

To get started with UWP Community Toolkit, check out the following tutorial, or install Sample App from the Windows Store to preview latest features.

The Toolkit itself can be download over here.

UWP Community Toolkit

Lastly, Microsoft also announced the preview of SQL Server Command Line Tools (sqlcmd and bcp) on Mac OS, an extremely useful for repetitive database tasks such as batch processing or unit testing.

The sqlcmd utility is a command-line tool that lets you submit T-SQL statements or batches to local and remote instances of SQL Server.

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