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Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Data Group. (Microsoft Photo)

Microsoft says it’s building artificial intelligence capabilities directly into SQL Server 2017, aiming to simplify and speed up machine-learning processes that would normally take place outside the database.

The company says the integration will create new deep-learning capabilities inside databases, such as image recognition, text analysis and other AI tasks involving unstructured data.

Microsoft describes the integration as a first for relational database management systems. The company is also adding support for the Python programming language into SQL Server, supplementing its existing support for the R programming language that’s popular for data science.

“SQL Server now is not just a database management system — I think of it as an intelligence base,” said Joseph Sirosh, corporate vice president for Microsoft’s Data Group, in a briefing with reporters and analysts.

It’s part of an effort by Microsoft to keep its longtime database system relevant in a world of cloud computing and open-source alternatives, competing against database giant Oracle and others. Microsoft previously announced plans to let SQL Server 2017 run on Linux, in another high-profile move along those lines. The new version will also run inside Docker containers on Linux or Mac, the company says.

SQL Server remains a key product for Microsoft’s business. The company cited growth in premium versions of SQL Server as one of the reasons for an increase of $1.6 billion, or 9 percent, in its server products and cloud services revenue for the 2016 fiscal year, as part of its Intelligent Cloud business.

The artificial-intelligence capabilities will be integrated starting with a new Community Technology Preview of SQL Server 2017, which the company describes as a production-quality release. Microsoft is making the announcement as part of a “Data Amp” online event, starting at 8 a.m. Pacific this morning with Sirosh and Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise business.

The company is also announcing the official release of its Face API, Computer Vision API and Content Moderator cognitive services as part of its Azure cloud platform. In addition, Microsoft says new Cortana Intelligence solutions templates will help companies and developers create advanced AI and analytics applications on Azure.

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