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Microsoft Executive Vice President Scott Guthrie at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The main event doesn’t kick off until next Monday morning in downtown Seattle, but Microsoft plans to announce a new database and blockchain service Thursday while getting ready for Microsoft Build.

Azure SQL Database Edge was designed for the Arm processors that will likely power lots of devices as edge computing, where more work is pushed out to the edges of a network away from a central cloud server, gains steam. It will also run on standard Intel processors. Azure Blockchain Service will be a fully-managed blockchain networking service in pursuit of another emerging trend, and Microsoft is partnering with J.P. Morgan to offer its Ethereum platform, Quorum, through the service.

Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie, executive vice president of its Cloud and AI Group, also plans to talk up several new enhancements to machine-learning services within Azure in a blog post set to go live Thursday afternoon. Microsoft expects 6,000 people to attend next week’s annual developer event at the Washington State Convention Center, where CEO Satya Nadella is scheduled to give a keynote address Monday morning.

Anyone who has heard Nadella give one of those speeches over the past few years has heard him mention “the intelligent edge” quite a few times. As Microsoft looks for its own edge among cloud buyers evaluating Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, it has focused on edge computing and the industrial internet of things as places where it can make an impact.

Edge computing will allow expensive manufacturing devices to process more data analysis directly on the machine. (Wikimedia Photo / CC 3.0)

The development of real-time app services running in new and often dangerous places is shifting the center of gravity in computing away from the centralized cloud servers of the last decade out to smaller devices, which need to be able to handle more of the processing workload on their own. Microsoft often likes to describe how factories are using real-time apps to monitor the health of their extremely expensive equipment; those apps can’t wait for their data to make the round trip to and from a cloud data center if a problem is detected, they need to act on their own.

As those apps grow more sophisticated and their devices get those chip upgrades, they’ll likely want store more data locally as well. Azure SQL Database Edge will be available as a private preview for customers working on these types of applications, and it might be particularly interesting to existing SQL Server customers who will be able to use the same tools and programming language on their edge devices.

In some ways, blockchain technology is all about the edge. You’ve heard of the blockchain because you’ve heard of Bitcoin, but many people believe blockchain services that authenticate transactions in a de-centralized way have promise beyond financial services.

Azure Blockchain Service is a step beyond the Azure Blockchain Workbench Microsoft announced last year at Build. It frees companies that want to use blockchain services in their business from having to create the networks needed to share transaction data between parties, somewhat akin to how cloud companies offer application development platforms to their customers.

Build attendees interested in machine learning will also have some new toys to play with next week inside Azure Machine Learning and Azure Cognitive Services. The enhancements focus on making machine-learning models easier to use and understand, and also introduce several new capabilities such as text and speech recognition and a new service that promises to help smart applications and devices make better decisions on their own.

Rounding out the early-bird announcements, Azure will introduce a new IoT service that helps companies more easily add new types of devices to their networks without having to write new software each time a new class of device is added.

Cloud services continue to be the engine behind Microsoft’s resurgence over the past few years, and while we’re still not sure how large a role Azure revenue is playing in that comeback, it’s definitely one of Microsoft’s stronger assets. Nadella’s speech kicks off at 830am on Monday.

[Editor’s note: This post was updated to clarify that Azure SQL Database Edge will also run on processors made by Intel and AMD after incorrect information was provided by Microsoft.]

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