Microsoft tries to become a power player in the brave new world of Internet-connected sensors, using a cloud-based Internet of Things management service, Azure Intelligent Systems.
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According to Windows Embedded general manager Barbara Edson, most Microsoft customers know that Internet of Things (IoT) is a big deal, but many of them are also "super confused" about what it means for them.
"There's a lot of noise," she said in an interview. "We want to make it much more accessible."
This week, the company offers its first step toward this goal: Azure Intelligent Systems, a cloud-based service designed to manage IoT devices, collect the data they produce, and route it to useful tools that include not only Azure's Hadoop-based HD Insight or Office 365's Power BI, but also custom software built by Microsoft partners.
Edson described Microsoft's ambition in customer-centric terms. "We're thinking about the Internet of your things, not the Internet of everything," she said, adding that for many customers, IoT's strategic value is "selling more products, not collecting data or connecting devices."
Intelligent Systems is currently accessible only through a limited public preview, but the final version will include a portal that lets infrastructure operators manage all devices from a single site. It turns IoT from a "science project into a business project," Edson said.
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1. Intelligent Systems will be a cross-platform service that augments existing infrastructure investments. Edson said businesses might install new devices and sensors to improve data collection but few will opt for wholesale hardware upgrades. "It's not rip and replace," she said. "Customers aren't ripping out their manufacturing infrastructure. We knew we had to implement a product on top of infrastructure that exists today."
Intelligent Systems connects to devices over IP and, like other Azure services, will receive frequent updates that add new features. It can also integrate with Microsoft's new data platform, feeding information into Power BI, where it can be visualized or manipulated through natural language queries, for example.
Azure Intelligent Systems was among several data-centric products that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced this week.
Edson described Intelligent System as a cross-platform companion to Microsoft's recently-announced Windows for IoT platform, a statement that seems to reaffirm that Azure has become more important than Windows to Microsoft's future. The same engineering team works on both products, she said, but "we're a cross-platform company. This is a cloud-first strategy: Connect to any device, anywhere, get data off that device."
With Windows for IoT, "we want developers to know Windows will play in that space," Edson said. "But at the same time, we also realize you are going to have devices on Linux or whatever, and we need to work with that."
2. Intelligent Systems' applications will range from better maintenance, to smarter city infrastructure, to custom-built products. Thanks to IoT products like Intelligent Systems, a smartphone app might soon tell you where to park and automatically pay the meter once you've done so. Eventually, vehicles will do the driving and parking themselves. They'll also likely send engine diagnostics, tire pressure measurements, environmental readings, and other data back to the manufacturer, which should mean better-built cars and more pro-active maintenance. And even if your car does break down, all that data means the mechanic should already know how to fix the problem by the time your tow truck arrives.
There are other examples. Smart street lights and parking meters could be used to track traffic flow and predict where jams will occur. Environmental data from a food cart could be routed to Microsoft's Analytics Platform System, where it could be combined with transactional data and unstructured social media references to determine if customers' buying attitudes vary with the weather. Edson noted that vending machines tend to malfunction
Michael Endler joined InformationWeek as an associate editor in 2012. He previously worked in talent representation in the entertainment industry, as a freelance copywriter and photojournalist, and as a teacher. Michael earned a BA in English from Stanford University in 2005 ... View Full Bio