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Microsoft and Lockheed Martin team up on defense tech

Lockheed Martin and Microsoft say they’re deepening their strategic relationship to help power the next generation of computing and communications technology for the Department of Defense.

Cloud-based services play a key role in that relationship. Under the terms of an agreement announced this week, Lockheed Martin will become the first non-governmental entity to operate independently inside the Microsoft Azure Government Secret cloud.

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Axiom Space joins effort to put the cloud in orbit

When Houston-based Axiom Space starts putting together its commercial space station, some out-of-this-world infrastructure for cloud computing could be close behind — and Microsoft could help make it happen.

That vision of “infrastructure as a service” in low Earth orbit, or LEO, is what’s behind a strategic collaboration agreement involving Axiom Space, Microsoft Azure Space and a Virginia-based venture called LEOcloud. The deal sets the stage for developing and delivering space-based cloud services from commercial assets.

“It’s been an amazing ride to bring all this to this level of reality,” LEOcloud founder Dennis Gatens told me.

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Software tool estimates what quantum computing can do

What’ll it take to solve the quantum computing challenges of the future? Microsoft has an app for that — and now developers around the world can have it, too.

The app is called the Azure Quantum Resource Estimator. It’s a software tool that was originally developed for Microsoft’s internal use. The tool is already guiding the company’s effort to develop full-stack quantum computers, and now it can also help outside developers figure out how much computing power they’ll need to execute a given quantum algorithm in a reasonable amount of time.

That’s a key question, because the guidelines used for classical computing don’t necessarily apply to the quantum frontier. Unlike classical computers, quantum computers take advantage of an environment where a quantum bit — better known as a qubit — can represent a one and a zero at the same time.

Quantum approaches can be far more efficient than the standard binary computing approach for solving particular kinds of problems: optimizing a network, for example, or figuring out how to design a synthetic molecule to perform a specific chemical task.

“We’ll be able to study, for example, how to help remove harmful gases from the atmosphere,” Krysta Svore, distinguished engineer and vice president of quantum software at Microsoft, told me.

“Ten years ago, we thought it would take a billion years’ run time on a quantum computer,” Svore said. “That’s a really long time to wait. But over the last decade, we’ve been able to bring that down to a month’s run time on a quantum computer … using exactly the resource estimator, this tool, to understand the cost of the algorithm. And we’ve been able to redesign our hardware accordingly as well.”

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Microsoft and Amazon join Pentagon networking effort

Microsoft Azure SpaceAmazon Web Services and Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network are now among the Pentagon’s partners in a campaign to upgrade space- and ground-based communications infrastructure for national security purposes.

The Defense Innovation Unit has awarded contracts to those three Seattle-area business units — plus SpiderOak Mission Systems, a space cybersecurity venture based in Washington, D.C. — in the second phase of the Hybrid Space Architecture project. They join four awardees from the first phase: Aalyria, Anduril, Atlas and Enveil.

“Hybrid Space Architecture ventures into an experimental communications vision that connects users from around the globe using modern and future communications,” Steve Butow, director of DIU’s space portfolio, said today in a news release. “The additional four awards from this solicitation provide new capabilities while seamlessly integrating into this dynamic and innovative collective of information and networking infrastructure that will provide resilient communications, and future technologies access, worldwide and beyond.”

The focus of the Phase I effort was to create a “Hybrid Gateway Satellite” to prove out next-generation networking technologies. Phase II is aimed at expanding the operational network to link ground-based cloud and internet services with commercial satellite constellations to facilitate secure communications via a hybrid public-private network.

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Microsoft cybersecurity chief sizes up ‘growing threat’

Microsoft’s point man on cybersecurity, Charlie Bell, acknowledges that the threat posed by “bad actors” online — including nation states and crime syndicates with their own HR departments — is rapidly rising.

“The threat is growing,” said Bell, who is Microsoft’s executive vice president for security, compliance, identity and management. “It’s amazing how organized the threat has become, and how big it’s become.”

But bit by bit, strategy by strategy, the response to the threat is becoming more organized as well, Bell said today at the GeekWire Summit. Although network security will always be a challenge, he has faith that the tide can be turned.

“We talk a lot about defensive depth,” Bell said. “It’s going to be continually layering the protection on and making the yield that somebody gets … smaller and smaller and smaller, so that you’ve got to break a lot more things before you get any value. And at some point, it becomes far more effort to break enough things to get enough value than it’s worth. And that’s when we know that we’ll fully turn the tide.”

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Microsoft and SpaceX ramp up satellite cloud access

With SpaceX’s help, Microsoft is taking the next step toward merging cloud computing with available-anywhere satellite connectivity.

Today Microsoft announced the start of a private preview for Azure Orbital Cloud Access, which lets users link up with the cloud in a single hop from virtually anywhere via SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation.

For now, the preview is limited to Microsoft Azure’s government customers. But Jason Zander, executive vice president of Microsoft strategic missions and technologies, said “we are currently working toward general availability and commercial expansion.”

“That timeline will be determined by the evolution of our work with our private preview customers and customer feedback,” Zander told GeekWire in an emailed response to questions.

Today’s announcement, timed to coincide with the World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris, comes nearly two years after Microsoft announced that it was teaming up with SpaceX on satellite cloud access.

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Microsoft strengthens ties with final frontier pioneers

Microsoft doesn’t build rockets. It doesn’t build satellites, and it doesn’t have a launch pad. So what does Microsoft’s Azure Space business unit do?

“Azure Space is about bringing cloud computing and space technologies together with a partner ecosystem,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me.

From the beginning, partnerships have been “a foundational part of our approach to space,” Kitay said. So, two years after launching its space-centric cloud computing service, Microsoft is taking a new step to deepen those partnerships by establishing the Azure Space Partner Community.

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Microsoft pushes autonomous drones to new heights

How do you teach an autonomous drone to fly itself? Practice, practice, practice.

Now Microsoft is offering a way to put a drone’s control software through its paces millions of times before the first takeoff.

The cloud-based simulation platform, Project AirSim, is being made available in limited preview starting today, in conjunction with this week’s Farnborough International Airshow in Britain.

“Project AirSim is a critical tool that lets us bridge the world of bits and the world of atoms, and it shows the power of the industrial metaverse — the virtual worlds where businesses will build, test and hone solutions, and then bring them into the real world,” Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft corporate vice president for business incubations in technology and research, said today in a blog posting.

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Old satellites could get a new lease on life via the cloud

What do you do with an aging weather satellite? If you’re the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, you turn to Microsoft Azure and a Seattle-area startup called Xplore to find out if there’s a cheaper way to keep it going.

After a yearlong demonstration project, the three partners determined that there is a way, thanks to cloud computing and cloud-based mission control software.

“Our work with NOAA and Xplore is driving innovation to virtualize satellite ground station operations in the cloud,” Stephen Kitay, senior director of Microsoft Azure Space, told me. “And this is empowering agencies to tap into the newest commercial technologies and unlock new levels of resiliency and global capacity for critical mission operations.”

The demonstration — conducted under the terms of a cooperative research and development agreement, or CRADA for short — showed that cloud-based services could provide satellite mission management for one of NOAA’s legacy satellites, NOAA-18, in a way that met NOAA’s specifications.

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Boeing hires three giants to build its billion-dollar cloud

The billion-dollar competition to provide Boeing with cloud computing services is finished, and the winner is … a three-way split. Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud and Microsoft are all getting a share of the business, Boeing announced today.

In a LinkedIn post, Susan Doniz, Boeing’s chief information officer and senior VP for information technology and data analytics, called it a “multi-cloud partnership.”

“This represents a significant investment in the digital tools that will empower Boeing’s next 100 years,” she wrote. “These partnerships strengthen our ability to test a system — or an aircraft — hundreds of times using digital twin technology before it is deployed.”

Doniz said that becoming more cloud-centric will provide Boeing with “global scalability and elasticity without having to predict, procure, maintain and pay for on-premises servers.” Financial details relating to the multi-cloud partnership were not disclosed.