Microsoft Debuts Suite Of Azure Services For Internet Of Things, Preview Coming Later This Year

Microsoft Monday showed off its plan for getting customers on board with the Internet of Things, teasing a suite of new and existing services that put Azure at the center of its strategy for this emerging market.

The Azure IoT Suite, which Microsoft plans to release as a preview later this year, contains everything customers need in the deployment of their own IoT projects, Sam George, Microsoft's partner director of program management for Azure IoT services, said in an interview.

This includes services for connecting devices and other things to the Azure cloud, capturing the data they generate, managing and analyzing the data, and packaging it in a form customers can use to make decisions and automate operations, George said.

"The suite makes it simple for customers to provision and orchestrate IoT services," said George.

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[Related: Microsoft Launches Azure Machine Learning Service, Developers Getting On Board With Predictive Analytics]

Included in the suite is Azure Event Hubs, a service that can ingest and process telemetry data from millions of devices, as well as websites and apps. It's currently available to customers as a stand-alone service.

There's also Azure Stream Analytics, an event data processing service that gives customers real-time analytics from devices, sensors and other connected things. This service is currently in preview stage.

Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning service, its Azure HDInsight Hadoop service, and its PowerBI tool for visualizing IoT data also are part of the suite, and all are currently available on a stand-alone basis.

George said Microsoft also is including a simple billing model for the Azure services in the suite to help customers keep track of costs associated with IoT projects. Microsoft is holding off on sharing pricing or packaging details for the suite until the preview arrives.

IoT is still just an industry buzzword at this stage, but Microsoft is moving early to show customers how they can benefit from the technology. The Redmond, Wash.-based vendor is holding a series of free, half-day workshops for customers that are considering getting into the IoT space, delivered by Microsoft Consulting Services.

Alex Brown, CEO of 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based Microsoft Azure partner that's making a big push into IoT, told CRN he expects the Azure IoT Suite to accelerate the process.

"We've got a number of clients who have already come up with compelling use cases, and we just hired a leader to build the practice area for us," Brown said.

Jeff Chandler, president of American Technology Services, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft partner, said using Azure to support IoT projects will help his managed services practice and make it easier to handle large volumes of data.

"If we can quickly sift through large amounts of log data to find the few things we really need to pay attention to, then we can do a much better job as a managed services provider," Chandler said.

George said Microsoft customers are using IoT today for remote monitoring and to keep track of inbound telemetry data coming from devices.

Predictive maintenance, which uses historical data to make future predictions, is another emerging use case for customers that need to anticipate product stocking needs before they arise, said George.

Tony Colangelo, founder of Minburn Technology Solutions, a Washington, D.C.-based Microsoft partner that sells to federal government agencies, is also bullish on the Azure IoT Suite. "I can immediately foresee benefits at every level of government," he told CRN.

"Imagine a network of sensors to reduce traffic congestion in real time. Or a chip that our nation’s veterans could wear on their wrists, which contains secure access to their HIPAA-compliant medical records. This could potentially allow veterans to receive the best possible care at any medical facility anywhere in the country."

Jason Sauers, founder and director of connected systems at Phidiax, a Denver-based Azure partner, sees IoT as an important part of Microsoft's "micro-services" strategy.

The strategy involves stringing together a number of different cloud services on Azure "for extensive processing capabilities," Sauers said.

"Internet of Things data will make its way to the Azure cloud, where additional microservices will conduct the heavy lifting and orchestrate the data for use by more exotic services like business intelligence, machine learning and even monetization," said Sauers.