The IoT and edge computing markets are getting crowded. Post the Big Data revolution, IoT and AI have become the key drivers of the public cloud. Almost every cloud vendor has invested in industrial IoT and edge computing.
Back in 2015, Amazon acquired 2lemetry sparking a trend. Since then, Amazon has added multiple IoT and edge-related services to its portfolio. Microsoft followed suit by augmenting Azure to an IoT PaaS. Besides acquiring various companies such as Solair and Express Logic, Microsoft built several Azure services for IoT and edge from the ground up. Google bought Xively from LogMeIn to bridge the gap in the IoT market. Cloud TPU, Google’s unique cloud-based AI accelerators are now extended to the edge to deliver an unmatched performance of inferencing ML models at the edge.
Beyond the public cloud providers, there are multiple startups in the IoT and edge computing market delivering unique products and services.
Despite the growing competition, Microsoft has an undue advantage in the market. The heritage of Windows CE and Windows Embedded has helped the company in moving fast in the industrial IoT segment. Microsoft has been managing gaming devices and PCs through its Xbox Live and Windows InTune, which gave the company first-hand experience of device management at scale.
When it comes to IoT, Microsoft has been ambitious to become the segment leader.
Here are three unique, innovative, and extensible products that Microsoft has built for IoT customers:
Azure IoT Central
Even though the cloud has brought IoT closer to the enterprises, developing IoT solutions is expensive and difficult. Large enterprises end up spending more on development and system integration than on cloud services. IoT solutions have the longest time-to-market cycles.
To encourage customers to connect their devices to the cloud, Microsoft has built Azure IoT Central, a SaaS platform on Azure. It is a multi-tenant, out of the box IoT solution to realize the benefits of connected devices. IoT Central has all the ingredients of a best-in-class IoT platform. Customers can quickly onboard devices, ingest telemetry, perform remote maintenance, build KPI dashboards, and even integrate with third-party solutions. IoT Central can be easily customized to meet the needs of enterprises. Large solution providers can also white label IoT Central to expose a multi-tenant connected devices platform to their customers.
Since IoT Central is based on the same building blocks of Azure IoT platform, customers will be able to extend the capability to other Azure services such as Logic Apps, Functions, and Microsoft Flow.
Azure IoT Central has innovative pricing that removes the guesswork involved in calculating the cost. Customers pay per each device that’s connected to the platform plus the number of messages ingested by the device.
Azure IoT Central is the only SaaS-based connected devices platform available in the public cloud market.
Last year, Microsoft launched a microcontroller (MCU) meant to run at the edge computing layer. With the hardware-based root of trust combined with a custom Linux kernel, it is designed to be secure from the ground up.
Azure Sphere represents a new class of secure, connected, crossover MCU that integrates real-time processing capabilities with the ability to run a high-level operating system. It enables original device manufacturers (ODM) to gain instant and secure connectivity to the cloud. By embedding the MCU in a connected device, either alongside or in place of existing MCU(s), device manufacturers gain enhanced security, productivity, and opportunity to participate in the IoT revolution.
Microsoft built Azure Sphere with tight integration with Azure IoT Hub – the device management layer in the cloud. Customers can connect existing devices to Azure through Azure Sphere. For example, Starbucks is leveraging Azure Sphere to extend its coffee machines to the cloud. Specktacom, a sports-based startup in India is relying on the Azure Sphere module to aggregate data points from multiple sensors attached to a cricket bat.
Azure Sphere has the potential to become the cornerstone of Microsoft’s intelligent edge strategy. In the IoT and edge markets, it’s already one of the key differentiators for the company.
Azure IoT Plug and Play
The industry is experiencing an explosion of connected devices. In the next few years, billions of devices will become a part of the IoT paradigm. Despite the growth potential, it’s not easy to connect devices to the cloud.
Microsoft wants to bring the ease of plug and play to connected devices. Similar to a feature in the Windows OS that simplified the process of connecting a printer or network interface card, IoT Plug and Play will reduce the time it takes to onboard a device.
By importing the JSON-LD definition associated with a device, Azure can instantly discover the capabilities and integration aspects. Azure IoT Central can even generate user interfaces to customize device attributes based on JSON-LD.
Microsoft has worked with the ODMs listed in the Azure Marketplace to expose JSON-LD for their own devices. This step enables the ecosystem to accelerate the adoption of industrial IoT significantly.
Microsoft has a unique opportunity in the IoT and edge computing markets. With innovative products such as Azure IoT Central, Azure Sphere, and IoT Plug and Play, the company is moving forward to become the segment leader.