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Microsoft Planning Azure and Windows 10 'Internet of Things' Products

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined the company's "Internet of things" (IoT) vision at Convergence 2015 today, including Azure and Windows products to come.

Convergence is Microsoft's annual event showcasing Microsoft Dynamics enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management products. At the Atlanta-based event, the company had news today about its next update to Dynamic CRM 2015. It also described a broader preview release of its Power BI data visualization service. Those products, and more, are conceived as part of Microsoft's IoT vision, where machine sensor data gathered from the field can be used to gain business insights and enable cost efficiencies.

Much of Nadella's Convergence talk centered on a role for Windows 10 for IoT purposes, as well the use of a so-called "Azure IoT Suite." This suite, a new product, will combine business intelligence capabilities (Power BI) using real-time data (Azure Stream Analytics) with Azure Machine Learning capabilities, he said.

"And so I'm really pleased to announce the coming together of all of these technologies from ability to connect data up onto the cloud; process them using the Stream Analytics Services; do these sophisticated machine learning models using Azure ML into one comprehensive suite called Azure IoT Suite, which will become that core infrastructure for you to be able to build out these SaaS services like the examples you saw," Nadella said during the event, according to a Microsoft transcript.

Nadella depicted a future world that will have "26 billion general purpose compute devices" by 2019. It will produce "something like 44 zettabytes of data that's going to be in the cloud," he added.

The forthcoming Azure IoT suite will be available as a "preview later this year," according to Microsoft's announcement today. While few details about the suite were provided, it will be designed address various IoT scenarios "such as remote monitoring, asset management and predictive maintenance."

Current Azure IoT Services
Microsoft already offers various "Azure IoT services," which are sold on an a la carte basis. Those services include:

  • Azure Event Hubs
  • Azure DocumentDB
  • Azure Stream Analytics
  • Azure Notification Hubs
  • Azure Machine Learning
  • Azure HDInsight and
  • Power BI

Microsoft's announcement today seemed to suggest it is contemplating some sort of bundled plan, tapping some or all of those existing Azure IoT services.

Currently, just Azure Event Hubs, Azure HDInsight and Azure Notification Hubs are described as "recently available" in Microsoft's cloud platform roadmap, meaning that they are deemed by Microsoft to be ready for production use (or at the "general availability" stage). The rest of those seven services -- DocumentDB, Stream Analytics, Machine Learning and Power BI -- are just available at the "preview" testing phase for now, but most will hit general availability next month, according to Microsoft's documentation pages. Possibly, the one exception will be Power BI, which is getting some licensing and product dependency changes.

Microsoft also has an "Azure Intelligent Systems Service," which was released in April and is now at the closed preview stage. It combines Power BI with HDInsight, which is Microsoft's Hadoop-based "Big Data" offering. However, Takeshi Numoto, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Cloud and Enterprise Marketing, today described the Azure Intelligent Systems Service as just a "starting point" for a more mature Azure IoT Suite to come.

Windows 10 IoT
Nadella highlighted Windows 10 as being part of the IoT scenario, enabling insights from Big Data. He wasn't specific, but alluded to "privacy" protections and a "more personal computing" experience supported by Windows 10 IoT.

"So for us Windows 10 marks a huge milestone on this journey of more personal computing where it will span with one consistent experience for users, developers, and IT administrators from across Internet of Things to these holographic computers," Nadella said, perhaps alluding to Microsoft's new HoloLens product under development.

No details about Windows 10 IoT were provided during the Convergence talk, and the Microsoft spokesperson said that "at this time, we don't have additional information to provide on Windows 10 IoT."

However, Windows 10 IoT essentially is equivalent to Microsoft's "embedded" product line for that operating system, according to a report by veteran Microsoft reporter Mary Jo Foley. She noted that a few slides shown at Microsoft's TechEd Europe event in the fall of last year had indicated that Microsoft plans to release embedded editions such as "Windows 10 Industry, Windows 10 Mobile, Windows 10 Compact, Windows 10 'Athens,' and the updated version of the .NET Micro Framework" sometime in the near future. These products will all share a common core of code, which she called "OneCore."

Another example is Microsoft's recently announced Windows 10 for Raspberry Pi 2 program. It's part of Microsoft's "Windows Developer Program for IoT," according to a Microsoft description.

The Overall IoT Market
Microsoft's IoT announcements aren't exactly new. Moreover, they are packaging and marketing efforts that stand alongside competitor efforts, according to Frank Gillett, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"There's lots of talk around putting Internet-connected sensors and actuators in logs of things that didn't happen before," Gillett said, in a phone interview on Monday. "And so, what we see with Microsoft is that they are adding introductory and basic capability to easily analyze data streaming off these devices. So, in some ways, it's not a huge deal. It's an incremental step from where they are. It's as much about marketing -- as it is also with Cisco, GE and IBM -- as it is about actual technology features. They'd announced a capability last year, and now they've gone back and refined it and made it higher scale and packaged it up better."

Gillett said that IBM has been talking about its Smarter Planet IoT effort for some time. Oracle has an Internet of things platform. And SAP has started talking about the Internet of things, too. While such IoT efforts include new technologies, it's been "going on for 10 or 20 years and we're simply updating and modifying things and making it more Internet connected," Gillett said. The older term for it was "embedded systems," he added.

IoE is mostly driven by specific use cases, Gillett explained. At the enterprise level, there are three segments. The commercial segment includes offices, stores, conference spaces and sports stadiums -- and it's not just about controlling air conditioning and lighting, he added. The second category is industrial spaces, such as outdoor drilling rigs, mines, warehouses and factories. The third category is infrastructure, such as roads, buildings, pipelines, power grids and even "smart cities," he said.

Essentially, anyone with an office building has a building management system, and when it gets hooked up to the Internet, then you have an IoT-enabled building, which can be used to do things like reduce energy costs, Gillett noted. He cited the example of Rudin Management, a New York property management company that saved $1 million per year with one skyscraper building via an IoT system. Rudin used information from the building's turnstiles to determine building's occupancy during the day. That information allowed them to save on the building's heating and cooling costs, particularly when people had stepped out for lunch, he explained.

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