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Microsoft turns to Databricks for more open-source AI models

Databricks has a wide range of open-source foundation AI models and will bring them to Microsoft's cloud.

By Ryan Morrison

Microsoft is reportedly working with Databricks to bring open-source AI models and tools to its Azure cloud platform. The partnership is expected to involve the tech giant selling Databricks products that allow companies to build their own AI tools on Azure. Microsoft is already heavily invested in AI through its partnership with ChatGPT maker OpenAI, but is apparently looking to diversify the available open-source and proprietary models on its platform.

Databricks publishes open-source AI tools that allow enterprise developers to work with AI while securing data (Photo: rarrarorro / Shutterstock.com)
Databricks publishes open-source AI tools that allow enterprise developers to work with AI while securing data. (Photo: rarrarorro/Shutterstock.com)

The new deal will likely build on existing Databricks products available through the Microsoft cloud platform, and let companies either make their own AI models from scratch or re-purpose open source models like Llama 2 from Meta. The news was first reported by The Information, which cites sources familiar with the plan.

Since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022 companies have been looking for ways to integrate generative and foundation model AI. Doing so while also preserving and protecting sensitive data is proving to be one of the biggest issues facing enterprise users.

Databricks also recently acquired OpenAI competitor MosaicML for $1.3bn. MosaicML has a platform that lets organisations train large language models and deploy generative AI tools on top of those models. It has been incorporated into the Databricks Lakehouse Platform to provide generative AI tooling in a multicloud market.

Databricks allows companies to create custom models that keep all data, both training and operational, inside the company ecosystem. The new partnership would bring that capability onto the Azure platform, linking it with other Azure products. It builds on the current Azure Databricks offering, which includes pre-built AI models tightly integrated with Azure Data Lake Storage, Data Factory and Synapse Analytics. 

Open-source AI vs proprietary models

The rise in open source models is directly challenging the proprietary, licenced approach of companies like OpenAI and Anthropic. They are looking for alternative ways to drive revenue, with OpenAI recently acquiring a company to boost its product portfolio.

It has purchased Global Illumination, an eight-person business based in New York and focused on product development. The team will work on the AI lab’s core products including ChatGPT and DALL-E. 

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Global Illumination has been using AI to build creative tools including a Minecraft-like generative world builder. It includes people that have previously designed and built products early on at Instagram and Facebook and have made contributions at YouTube, Google, Pixar, Riot Games, and others. “We’re very excited for the impact they’ll have here at OpenAI,” a spokesperson said.

Technology analyst Shelly Kramer, from V3B, says Global Illumination is an exciting acquisition for OpenAI, not least because it is the company’s first public purchase in seven years. “ I see this as absolutely indicative of what’s ahead for the company, and it’s not only AI,” she says, adding: “The team they’ve gotten as a result of the acquisition brings an impressive line-up of talented folks, well-versed in both the gaming and digital experiences realms.“

Read more: Google launches ChatGPT competitor Bard

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