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Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems: 4 Facts

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.

in humid conditions, but with environmental sensors managed through Intelligent Systems, the vending machine's operator can spot problems before they materialize. She said the product's dashboard view can be drilled down for information on specific components, and Intelligent Systems even allows administrators to send devices instructions in response to real-time conditions.

Intelligent Systems isn't the only product that can enable these sorts of services, but the company is betting that its interface and ecosystem integration will help it stand out. Edson likened Intelligent Systems' portal to an air traffic control system for all devices, and said collected data is only helpful if put into the right (i.e. Microsoft's) analytics tools.

Azure Intelligent Systems includes tools that can be deployed out-of-box, but Microsoft plans to release a software development kit with which partners can create customized products. "Before, you could look at historical analysis and trends, but this is real-time data that can make real-time decisions," Edson said.

3. Azure Intelligent Systems is an evolution of Windows Embedded.
Although IoT only recently has become a buzz phrase, Microsoft's Windows Embedded platforms have played a role within the space for more than a decade. The OSes power a majority of the world's fixed point-of-sale devices and ATMs, Edson said.

Despite this history, Edson conceded Microsoft might seem late to the IoT party. For more than a year, Cisco has touted the concept as the core of its strategy, and a potential $19 trillion economic opportunity for businesses worldwide. Intel dedicated parts of both its developers' conference and CES keynote to IoT-oriented chips. Apple has fledgling efforts such as CarPlay and iBeacon. Google's projects include wearable devices, smart home products, robotics, and drones.

"We haven't been making marketing noise because we've been [creating actual products]," Edson said, noting that even though Azure Intelligent Systems is still a pre-release service, Microsoft already boasts a range of IoT customer projects, such as smart transportation initiatives in Paris and London.

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Microsoft GM Eron Kelly demonstrates how Microsoft's new products visualize complex data sets.

Cisco CEO John Chambers has argued industries will stunt IoT's progress if they don't embrace common standards, which he says are necessary for the seamless data streams IoT devices are meant to relay. This viewpoint has many supporters; Cisco spearheaded an Internet of Things World Forum last fall and hosted a two-day steering committee this month to plan another forum for this year. Edson said Microsoft agrees that standards are important and will become a bigger participant in such efforts.

She countered, however, that Microsoft's viewpoint focuses on the customers' things instead of everything. "We're not trying to boil the ocean," she said.

4. Azure Intelligent Systems will feature a per-device pricing model.
Microsoft hasn't announced prices for Intelligent Systems, which will be a subscription service. But Edson said costs would involve the number of devices the customer needs to manage. She emphasized that a device and a "thing" are not necessarily the same. "A sensor could be a thing," she explained, "but there would be a device with multiple sensors."

She said plans will be simple and economical. "[With other IoT services], it's been super complicated to figure out operating expenses," she said, but Microsoft's approach will be more like a monthly phone bill. 

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