Microsoft Starts Selling Azure Internet-Of-Things Suite, Teases New Container Management Tech For Enterprises

Microsoft is staking its claim in the Internet Of Things with a suite of new services that it says will help organizations get value from the device and sensor data they're collecting every day.

Microsoft on Tuesday started selling Azure IoT Suite, a preconfigured set of services for connecting sensor-equipped devices to the Azure cloud, capturing the data they generate, and managing and analyzing the data.

Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., unveiled Azure IoT Suite in March.

[Related: Microsoft Debuts Suite Of Azure Services For Internet Of Things, Preview Coming Later This Year]

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The Azure IoT Suite is ideal for customers with large fleets of sensor-connected devices, and includes technology for remote monitoring, asset management and predictive maintenance, Mike Schutz, general manager of cloud platform marketing at Microsoft, said in an interview.

The Internet of Things refers to a future in which all sorts of devices -- from ordinary household appliances to industrial equipment -- are connected to the Internet, continually funneling data back to central repositories for analysis.

Microsoft is one of many vendors that see huge opportunities in this space. Cisco, which calls this market "the Internet of Everything," sees this as a potential $19 trillion market.

Microsoft customer ThyssenKrupp, the Germany-based maker of elevators, escalators and other people-moving equipment, uses the Azure IoT Suite to make use of data it collects from Internet-connected sensors all over the world, said Schutz.

Instead of waiting for equipment to break down, ThyssenKrupp uses Azure IoT Suite's data analysis to identify problems before they lead to failures, which saves the company time and money, according to Schutz.

The Azure IoT Suite includes Microsoft's Azure Machine Learning service, its Azure HDInsight Hadoop service, and its PowerBI tool for visualizing IoT data.

Also included are Azure Event Hubs, a service that can ingest and process telemetry data from millions of devices; and Azure Stream Analytics, an event data processing service that provides real-time analytics from devices and sensors.

Jeff Chandler, president of American Technology Services, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN he thinks Azure Event Hubs and PowerBI have "some interesting abilities."

Chandler said as an example, a parking lot management company could use these technologies to collect data on the frequency of gate openings and adjust its staffing accordingly to meet demand.

"[The company] could also compare that gate data with revenue data to begin to spot issues that might otherwise be buried in way too many data points," said Chandler. "Doing this inexpensively, in a way that integrates well with my existing Active Directory infrastructure, makes it all pretty compelling."

Alex Brown, CEO at 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based Microsoft Azure partner, said the templates Microsoft provides for the Azure IoT Suite make it easy for customers to get up to speed on the technology.

"We're having discussions with customers about how they can deploy other aspects of the Suite, and Cortana analytics, to get value out of all the data they have coming into their organizations," Brown said.

Business intelligence technology has long been expensive and difficult to navigate because of of proprietary vendor technology, but Microsoft is making it vendor-agnostic and standardized, said Jason Sauers, founder and director of connected systems at Phidiax, a Denver-based Microsoft partner.

"Microsoft is breaking barriers to provide affordable, scalable and efficient business intelligence to the masses," Sauers told CRN.

A Microsoft spokeswoman told CRN that Azure IoT Suite pricing averages roughly $1.50 per device/month. Microsoft offers 500-device bundles, as most customers need this many for their iniital deployments, said the spokeswoman.

Pricing includes the comprehensive IoT Suite solution, "including integration services into a company’s existing infrastructure, connected devices of all types at scale for very chatty devices, and real time analytics and visualization/dashboards," said the Microsoft spokeswoman.

Microsoft, which announced support for Docker containers on Azure about 18 months ago, is also talking about Azure Container Service, a new offering that it says will help customers deploy and manage large numbers of containers. A preview of the service is due by the end of the year, Schutz said.

Developers love containers because they're smaller and lighter than virtual machines, and because they let developers build apps and move them quickly into production, on any type of infrastructure, without making changes to their code.

Apache Mesos, an open-source cluster management technology that makes pools of CPU, memory, storage and other compute resources available to distributed applications, is the orchestration engine for Azure Container Service, said Schutz.

Apache Mesos is "a very mature technology" that's effective for large-scale container deployments, and is used by Airbnb, Twitter and Apple's Siri service, according to Schutz.

"This is 100 percent built on open-source technology on top of Azure," Schutz said. Azure provides the underlying Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer, and above that you have Linux VMs, Docker containers and Mesos open-source components. We wrap that together and make it easy for developers to use right from the Azure portal."