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Microsoft and Dell Plan IoT Solution, but Both Companies Downplay Pact

After talking up its IoT division this week, Dell Technologies said it is working with Microsoft to deliver a jointly developed solution in the second half of this year, but the two companies gave the announcement limited airplay.

Microsoft and Dell Technologies are working together to deliver a solution that will integrate some of the two companies’ respective IoT edge and management offerings. The vague – and seemingly last-minute announcement – was slipped in during Dell Technologies World this week in Las Vegas, but both companies appeared to downplay the latest pact.

Both companies are jointly developing IoT solutions slated for release in the second half of this year that provides an IoT infrastructure, management and security for processes such as predictive maintenance and supply chain visibility. It will use Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge, a platform environment announced a year ago and in preview since November, to run solutions built with the Azure Machine Learning tool kit that run in Docker-based Windows and Linux containers.

The solution will run on Dell Edge Gateways, endpoint nodes powered with dual core Intel Atom processors and wired and wireless connectors and will support VMware Pulse IoT Center. “This collaboration will enable customers to implement IoT more seamlessly, for better and faster ROI,” said Chris Wolff, head of global OEM and IoT partnerships at Dell Technologies, in a statement.

Wolff, who participated in a roundtable interview to discuss the go-to-market strategy for the company’s new IoT division during Dell Technologies World on Tuesday, hadn’t alluded to the announcement, issued with little fanfare the following morning. Wolff didn’t respond to an email requesting more information. Another Dell official said the company had nothing further to add beyond what was stated in this week’s announcement.

Jimmy Garcia-Meza, CEO of CloudPlugs, a partner who works with both companies’ solutions, found the announcement confusing. “The VMware team at Dell is pushing VMware Pulse IoT Center which competes with Azure IoT Hub,” Garcia-Meza said. “Given their lack of good edge capabilities perhaps they want to use Azure IoT Edge as a stopgap until they have something.”

Garcia-Meza was also unclear on the implications of working together on an endpoint solution. “The Dell IoT team is pushing EdgeX for the edge which is a competitor to Azure IoT Edge,” he said. “Not sure how you can reconcile this. On the other hand, Dell wants to sell their edge gateways and the hardware team at Dell will benefit from any application technology that will result in more hardware sales. So perhaps from the hardware angle this makes sense.”

Perhaps Microsoft plans to reveal more at its annual Build Conference for developers in Seattle, plans to support the EdgeX Foundry Project? EdgeX is an open-source effort championed by Analog Devices, Dell EMC and Samsung, and about 60 other member companies including CloudPlugs. Microsoft didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Ruston Panabaker, vice president of IoT solutions, stated in the Dell Technologies announcement: “By delivering this integrated edge to cloud solution, Microsoft and Dell technologies are making it easier for customers to empower their employees, optimize operations and reimagine their products, services or even business models.”

Microsoft and Dell Technologies have a longstanding partnership across various business lines, through they also compete. The two companies already had counted each other as partners in IoT, though Microsoft has worked closely with Cisco to provide integration with the Azure IoT portfolio and Cisco Fog, in a partnership announced nearly a year ago.

When asked about Microsoft’s recent Azure Sphere IoT announcement during the roundtable interview at Dell Technologies World, Ray O ‘Farrell, who heads the new IoT division and is also VMware’s CTO, noted that effort focused more on providing intelligence at the sensor, or microcontroller unit (MCU) layer.

“We will work with Microsoft as needed to make sure that we able to be able to be able to manage that infrastructure because I'm sure that there is a refrigerator in your home with that Microsoft stack and an MCU, there's going to be a microwave right beside it that [has] someone else's [MCU]. But our job is to figure out how do we get to build all of this infrastructure together in a cohesive fashion.”

In addition to technical questions about the new edge solution, it was unclear how the two companies will enable their respective channel partners to deliver it.

“Both have very broad, deep channel expertise, but they will have to lay out clear ground rules from the beginning,” said industry analyst Laura DiDio, of ITIC.

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