Microsoft launches new IoT services for the enterprise

Microsoft is launching IoT Central today, a new Internet of Things (IoT) service that gives enterprises a fully managed solution for setting up their IoT deployments without needing the in-house expertise necessary for deploying a cloud-based IoT solution from scratch. It’s basically IoT-as-a-Service.

In addition, the company is bringing its Azure Stream Analytics to edge devices, making it easier to provision new IoT devices, and it’s launching a completely new analytics service for time series data.

The two most important new services here are probably the launch of IoT Central service and the new Azure Time Series Insights tool. As Microsoft’s director of IoT Sam George told me, the idea here is to provide a number of new offerings that are complementary to the company’s existing Azure IoT Suite. While IoT gives many companies an opportunity to differentiate their services from competitors, it still takes a specialized set of skills to enable this. “While we find that IoT is a big differentiator, one of the things we’re finding in the broader market is that there is still a broad set of skill sets needed to implement IoT solutions,” George said.

IoT Central, then, is meant to simplify the deployment of these IoT solutions. “Customers here don’t need any cloud solutions expertise,” said George. Instead. IoT Central is fully managed by Microsoft and provides a fully featured solution that abstracts all of the underlying infrastructures away and lets business focus on analyzing their data. It comes with pre-configured solutions for many typical use cases. What users lose, though, is the flexibility to choose their own storage service or analytics engines, for example.

Azure Time Series Insights, which is now available in preview, is actually a new database offering from Microsoft that is based on the same technology the company itself uses to log every single event on Azure (and we’re talking billions of events a day here). While there are plenty of exceptions, IoT data tends to arrive in a time-based fashion and Time Series Insights is purpose-built to store and interactively visualize and analyze this type of data to find anomalies. For developers, the service also offers an API to integrate it into existing workflows.

Microsoft also announced that its Azure Stream Analytics service can now run on edge devices. This basically means that those devices will be able to run real-time analytics locally without having to send all their data to Azure first. While the cloud solution is meant to parse data from millions of devices, a single device doesn’t actually produce all that much data, and even a very basic Raspberry Pi has enough power to run this service locally. Thanks to this, these devices can function even when they don’t have a reliable connection to the internet.

As George told me, Microsoft believes that as IoT becomes a more mature technology, more and more of the intelligence will get pushed out to the edge — and stream analytics marks Microsoft’s first effort in this area.

Microsoft, of course, isn’t the only company playing in this field. George believes that it does have a leg up on its competitors like Google and AWS, though. “When we look across the industry, we see that there are now three hyper-scale clouds on the planet,” he noted. “We’re the only cloud vendor in IoT with a focus on both solutions and deep on-premises support with the likes of Azure Stack. We feel this really differentiates us from the competition.”