Nmedia - Fotolia

Azure IoT play biggest yet amongst mega cloud vendors

Azure IoT Suite may be the first major cloud platform to cover the spectrum of collecting, analyzing and presenting data from Internet of Things devices.

The Internet of Things has quickly become an area for mega public cloud vendors to stake their claims, and Microsoft has made the biggest statement yet.

The Azure IoT Suite, which will be available later this year, is expected to be the first end-to-end set of cloud tools and APIs for collecting, analyzing and presenting data from Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The move for a simplified answer to IoT across industries comes as more vendors push into the space and just days after public cloud market leader Amazon purchased startup 2lemetry, Inc., a company that makes middleware to connect sensors to back-end processing systems.

Big data analytics is used all over the place, and this provides Microsoft another way to be relevant in the cloud market, said Jack Gold, analyst and principal at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass. Some businesses that have historically used remote sensors or collected large swaths of data utilize these new capabilities, while others are "pretty much nowhere" in being able to translate the data into actionable results, he added.

"They want Azure to be the repository and ultimately the back-end engine," Gold said. "It's great to be collecting all that data, but it's no good unless you can do something useful once it's generated."

It's great to be collecting all that data, but it's no good unless you can do something useful once it's generated.
Jack Goldanalyst and principal at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Mass.

It wouldn't be surprising to see Microsoft and other vendors follow Amazon with acquisitions this year to bolster their offerings as the IoT grows, Gold said.

Gartner in December forecasted the number of connected devices to reach 25 billion by 2020. 

The IoT Suite expands on Azure Intelligent Systems Service, which became available last April and is designed to connect, manage and collect data from sensors and other devices. By integrating that into Azure, IT pros can manage the flow of data, analyze it and package it in a presentable manner, according to Microsoft.

Azure IoT Suite will include Azure Stream Analytics, which will be generally available in April to process large-scale, real-time data from IoT devices. Pricing for the suite is not yet available.

Windows10 and Power BI

In addition to the suite, Windows 10 IoT will be a version of the operating system designed specifically for IoT devices. Those upgrades, as well as the planned connection to Excel cloud servicePower BI, fill a void in the IoT and analytics market, said Ravi Chandran, CTO for Chicago-based Xtreme Data, Inc., which operates a big data analytics platform based on an SQL engine on Azure and most of the other major public cloud platforms.

"These are standard components that are going to become more standard reference architecture across a whole bunch of industries," Chandran said.

Xtreme Data is considering using a number of the services connected to the Azure IoT Suite, but the integration of IoT into Windows10 also is important for Microsoft’s IoT ambitions. The light-weight OS is geared toward a variety of Internet-accessible devices beyond laptops and servers, Chandran said.

"When you have to connect millions of things, you've got to have a small footprint, so that's the starting point of Windows 10," Chandran said.

IoT not new ground for Microsoft

Several mega vendors are jumping into this space, but one of Microsoft's advantages is that it has invested in embedded solutions for more than a decade in a broad variety of uses outside of all-purpose computing, including the manufacturing and automotive industries, said Alfonso Velosa III, research director at Gartner, Inc., based in Stamford, Conn. Part of the challenge this rollout starts to address is how to take that data out of these devices and process it securely so different parts of the enterprise can access it, he said.

"This is the culmination of a couple years' worth [of effort] from Microsoft, where they have been really looking at this portfolio and the requirements from customers in a broad set of industries," Velosa said.

There isn't really a full suite of IoT tools out there already because there isn't an IoT market, per se, Velosa said. The IoT tools for one market don't translate to another for a variety of reasons, and each sensor must be optimized for specific industries, companies and locations.

"A lot of these things for data protocols or different approaches to different business models haven't been fully fleshed out," Velosa said.

Amidst a rapidly changing landscape for the nascent field, Microsoft has maintained a consistent IoT management team that has been willing to adapt its strategy as the industry changes, Velosa said. One of the most encouraging parts of the Azure IoT Suite is how it differentiates from the introduction of Azure Intelligent Systems Service last April by meeting the current market realities with a suite that is more flexible and involves more partners, he added.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at [email protected].

Dig Deeper on Internet of Things (IoT) Cloud