Surfing the tsunami of change: TechWeek experts on preparing for hyperscale cloud and AI

 |   Microsoft New Zealand News Centre

“Microsoft is bringing the toolbox. Now it comes down to you guys in this room – what do you want to do with it?” 

That was the challenge thrown down by Pax8’s Dave Howden at the recent TechWeek panel event, Enhancing Hyperscale Cloud for Aotearoa, hosted by Microsoft on Auckland’s Viaduct. An audience of business leaders listened closely as Dave and Soul Machines VP Global Sales and Partnerships, Hilary O’Connor, joined executives from Microsoft to discuss how hyperscale cloud was set to unleash “the next generation of services” for their businesses and organisations across Aotearoa. 

As Dave observed, the advent of hyperscale cloud in Aotearoa was key to addressing the digital divide between Australia and New Zealand.  

“The larger the gap gets, the harder it is to run a tech business in New Zealand. The hyperscale datacenter region is bringing digital parity so we’re all on a level playing field,” he said. 

For Soul Machines, global parity and near-zero latency were hugely important. Its AI-powered Digital People have extremely intensive compute requirements, enabling the company to create digital celebrities that engage realistically, in real-time, with fans anywhere in the world – in their own language. With Digital Twins of golfing legend Jack Nicklaus, singer and basketballer Carmelo Anthony already brought to life, Soul Machines has plans for even more virtual celebrities, who could potentially talk to thousands of fans in different places, all at the same time.  

“Scaling through the cloud across the world is super-important, but it’s super-expensive to replicate what Microsoft does. Meanwhile, most of our engineering teams are in New Zealand, and latency matters when you’re rendering and testing. That’s why it absolutely matters having a datacenter region here,” Hilary said. 

Of all the topics under discussion, it was of course the promise of AI that generated the most curiosity. As Microsoft ANZ Azure and Security Business Group Lead, Evan Williams remarked, it took 16 years to reach 100 million worldwide users of the mobile phone, and seven years for the internet. ChatGPT took three months. 

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Developers are already saying that AI is cutting years off new product development. Soul Machines itself is already using ChatGPT to advance the language models it uses for its Digital People, while having to do less in the back end because of AI’s intuitive capabilities and the “amazing” interface ChatGPT provides.  

Dave summed it up perfectly: “If you ask it for a hammer to help you build a shed, AI will tell you everything you need, from the tools to the consenting process, suggesting options aligned with your intent, not just what you asked it. You may not even need a hammer in the first place.” 

But how can the average business keep up with what “the tsunami of change” unleashed by hyperscale cloud and access to the latest AI tools?  

The panellists agreed having AI Co-pilots across the Microsoft suite, including the Security Co-pilot, enables greater security, giving Kiwis more confidence to use tools like AI to innovate while helping protect them from the constant threats amongst the 65 trillion signals Microsoft intercepts daily. But skilling and a greater focus on supporting diversity and inclusion are even more critical.  

As Evan explained: “We’ve done huge due diligence to ensure we’re the most compliant datacenters in the world. But it’s a shared responsibility. We encourage our customers to first consider your processes around cybersecurity and the skills required of your people, and then how you’re leveraging technology. Think about where do you need to be if you’re going to adopt more cloud.” 

Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director Vanessa Sorenson urged businesses to find passionate people within your business and give them room to grow, and partner with organisations that support greater diversity in technology, such as TupuToa and Rea, to help build a pipeline of new talent while also boosting innovation and creativity across all industries. 

Across the industry, skillsets around the physical aspects of computing are less important with a DC on the way. Pax8 is looking to hire 400 people across Asia Pacific, seeking people with adaptability, an appreciation of empathy, how to drive business outcomes and the ability to apply knowledge more than technical certifications. 

And dedicating learning time across your organisation is a must to help stay on top of the latest developments and provide the space to upskill teams.  

“Here’s some advice I took to heart,” Vanessa said. “Don’t be a know-it-all culture, be a learn-it-all culture. In our team, Fridays are learning days, and no meetings are scheduled. I encourage all of you to bring that into your culture.” 

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