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 on Thursday announced a surprise
    partnership in
    releasing a free
    new software tool for developers, called
  • Gluon makes it easier for developers to build
    artificial-intelligence and 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 an
open-source project, meaning anyone can use it, work on it, or
contribute to it for free.

Releasing new programming tools like this as open source helps
make sure they 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 significantly change 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. It has bet its cloud-computing strategy on AI. It
believes AI will become so important to the cloud, and that it
will be so good at AI, that it 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, which is also free and open source and aimed
at helping developers build machine-learning apps. TensorFlow is
immensely popular with developers — it’s the
fifth-most-popular project
(by stars) on GitHub, a site that
hosts open-source projects, out of the over 2 million hosted

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Google CEO Sundar


Although a programmer does not need to use Google’s cloud to use
TensorFlow — it’s so popular that Amazon’s cloud also supports it
— developers naturally lean toward Google’s if TensorFlow is
important to them.

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

Likewise, Microsoft also has a TensorFlow competitor, called

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.

Because of the immense popularity of TensorFlow, it “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
TensorFlow,” said Lukas Biewald, the founder of CrowdFlower,
a startup that helps companies build apps that use machine
learning to 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,” one programmer wrote on Hacker
. “They’re ganging up against Google’s tools.”

‘We love TensorFlow’

Jeff BezosDavid Ryder/Getty Images

Matt Wood, the Amazon tech evangelist, insists Amazon isn’t
trying to squash Google’s tool.

“We love TensorFlow (and have a ton of developers using it on
AWS),” he wrote on Hacker

He continued: “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.”

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

And Microsoft and Amazon have been known to cuddle up on other AI
tech. In August, the two announced they would partner to make
their voice assistants, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa,
better together

In any case, the competition to create more easy-to-use AI tools
for developers gets a thumbs-up from Biewald.

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


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