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

Surfing the Tsunami of Change

“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 Dave Howden, Chief Executive Officer (NZ) at Pax8, 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 Howden and Hilary O’Connor, VP Global Sales and Partnerships for digital avatar company Soul Machines, 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.

The importance of scaling cloud

According to panelists, the advent of hyperscale cloud in Aotearoa is 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,” Howden said. “The hyperscale datacenter region is bringing digital parity so we’re all on a level playing field.”

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,” O’Connor said “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.”

The promise of AI

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 the mobile phone 16 years to reach 100 million worldwide users, with the internet taking seven years to hit that mark. ChatGPT hit that number in just three months.

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.

Howden summed it up by saying: “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 importance of maintaining security with AI

The panelists agreed that having AI Copilots across the Microsoft suite, including the Microsoft Security Copilot, 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 Williams 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 you need to be if you’re going to adopt more cloud.”

Fostering talent and finding the right partners

Microsoft New Zealand Managing Director Vanessa Sorenson urged businesses to find passionate people within their 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 datacentre on the way. Pax8 is looking to hire 400 people across Asia Pacific, seeking people with adaptability, an appreciation of empathy, an understanding of how to drive business outcomes, and beyond technical certifications, the ability to apply knowledge.

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,” Sorenson 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.”

For organisations looking to grow their business with additional talent, bandwidth, and services, Pax8 can bolster your existing offerings with expertise in services such as migration, cloud architecture and enablement, security strategy, and custom projects. Get in touch to discuss your unique needs and objectives, and Pax8 will help you to design and implement a custom solution.

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