Microsoft and Amazon struck a brilliant partnership to take on Google in the next big thing for cloud computing – Markets Insider


Satya Nadella and Jeff Bezos
Microsoft CEO Satya
Nadella and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Chip
Somodevilla / Staff


  • Microsoft and Amazon announced a surprise partnership
    on Thursday in which they were
    jointly releasing for free
    a new software tool for
    developers called Gluon.
  • Gluon makes it easier for developers to build
    AI/machine learning systems, aka apps that can
    learn. 
  • But there’s another, more important reason this
    partnership is interesting: it challenges Google in its one big
    area of dominance.

Microsoft and Amazon have joined forces to help
spread artificial intelligence across apps.

The two companies
released a new tool for developers
 called
Gluon as a free and open source project, meaning anyone can use
it or work on it and contribute to it for free.

Releasing new programming tools like this as open source is
a way to get people to start using them, and it helps make sure
these tools will do what people want them to do, because the
users are the ones contributing features.

But there’s another, more important reason that this partnership
is interesting. 

Machine learning and AI are the next big things in cloud
computing, with the potential to cause significant changes to the
cloud business that Amazon and Microsoft have long
dominated. 

And when it comes to AI and machine learning, Google seems to
have an edge. Google has bet its cloud computing
strategy on AI. The internet company believes
AI
will become so important to the cloud, and that Google will be so
good at it, that Google will leapfrog Amazon and Microsoft and
win the next cloud war.

An enemy in common

Google already has a head start, thanks to a tool it created
called Tensorflow, also free and open source and aimed
at helping developers build machine learning apps.
Tensorflow is immensely popular with developers. In fact, it’s
the the
fifth most popular project
(by stars) on GitHub out of the
over 2 million hosted on that site where open source projects are
shared.


Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google’s Sundar
Pichai

Beck
Diefenbach/Reuters


Although a programmer does not need to use Google’s cloud to use
Tensorflow – it’s so popular Amazon’s cloud also supports
it – developers would have sort of a natural
leaning toward Google’s cloud if Tensorflow was important to
them.

Naturally, Amazon has a competitor to Tensorflow
called MXNet. That’s Amazon’s modus operandi: support
the technologies its customers use, while also offering its own
versions of the tech that it wholly controls. That way, it makes
money either way.

Likewise, Microsoft also has a competitor to Tensorflow
called CNTK. 

Gluon’s role is to add a layer that makes MXNet and CNTK easier
to use, work with and program. Only the MXNet version was
released on Thursday but the CNTX version of Gluon is promised to
come soon. 

Given Tensorflow’s immense popularity, “TensorFlow already has a
layer like this called Keras that has become extremely popular,
so this might start to bring MXNet and CNTK to parity with
TensorFow,” explains Lukas Biewald CEO of machine learning
CrowdFlower. CrowdFlower is a startup that helps companies build
apps that know when a task can be automated and when a human
needs to get involved.

So, when it comes to Gluon, the partnership between Amazon and
Microsoft is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

“Gluon is an attempt by Microsoft and Amazon to regain some
influence in AI tools,” says one programmer commenting on Hacker
News.
“They’re ganging up against Google’s tools.”

“We love TensorFlow”


Jeff Bezos
Amazon CEO Jeff
Bezos

David Ryder/Getty
Images


Amazon tech evangelist Matt Wood, insists that Amazon isn’t
really trying to squash Google’s tool. “We love
TensorFlow (and have a ton of developers using it on AWS),” he
wrote on a
comment on Hacker News.
 

“Just like databases we’ll support a wide range of engines on
AWS; some of our own like Gluon, along side others from the
community like PyTorch and TensorFlow. They’re all first class
citizens. We even fund separable (competing!) teams internally to
focus on making sure AWS is the best place to run each of these
popular engines,” he wrote.

Still, there’s a reason Amazon creates its own homegrown
competitors to popular tech to give Amazon more control, and its
own stake.

And Microsoft and Amazon have been known to cuddle up on
other AI types of tech. In August, the two announced they were
partnering to make their
two voice assistants work better together
, Amazon Alexa and
Microsoft Cortana.

In any case, the competition to create more AI tools for
developers, and make them easier to use with gets a thumb up
from Biewald.

“Making neural nets easier to use is really good for CrowdFlower
and frankly everyone. Right now they’re a huge pain to build,” he
says.

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