Microsoft Delivers Key Component of New IoT SaaS Offering for CSPs
MICROSOFT IGNITE — IoT is among the key technologies in the spotlight at this week’s annual Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida, where the company officially released its new SaaS-based IoT platform and rolled out the preview of the recently announced Azure Sphere embedded OS.
The Azure IoT Central SaaS offering, revealed last year, lets partners customize, provision and manage IoT solutions for customers. Because it’s SaaS-based, it promises to make IoT-based solutions easier for partners to build and more accessible to customers than Microsoft’s more complex Azure IoT Hub.
“It’s the only true SaaS-based IoT offering that you will find on the market in the sense that it’s a fully managed service for IoT,” said Marcello Majonchi, senior program manager for Azure IoT at Microsoft, in an interview at the company’s booth in the Ignite exhibit hall. “You can create and deploy IoT applications that are enterprise-grade.”
Azure IT Central includes solution templates that a partner can map to embedded connected devices. In production, the data streams from the embedded devices to Azure IoT Central to provide analytics and dashboards to monitor devices. Majonichi said IoT Central can scale in Azure to support the data streams generated in large scale automation projects. Unlike other Azure services, IoT Central is not priced based on usage; rather, a per-embedded-device monthly rate.
“Customers only pay for the number of devices that are connected,” Majonichi said. “We realized that predicting IoT costs isn’t easy, but in this case everyone can figure out the cost based on the number of devices they plan to deploy. It’s easy to calculate online.”
Partners can create prototypes for customers at no cost with up to five connected, embedded devices.
“They can deploy our configurator and scale it out without writing a single line of code,” Majonichi said.
In addition to building the services, partners can price applications, extend them by connecting to enterprises and migrating customer implementations.
“It’s on Microsoft to support it, to make sure that the whole thing stays up, and we provide a single [service-level agreement],” he added
The initial implementation comes with several templates including a blank one that systems integrators can use to create or migrate an application. It comes with connectors to Microsoft Dynamics but also has one that integrates with Microsoft.
“From there you can use the Flow connectors and integrate with third-party business applications like ServiceNow, Salesforce or whatever,” Majonichi said.
Azure IoT Central doesn’t have a solution marketplace but Majonichi said Microsoft is working to enable partners to build solutions and services for customers. One such arrangement is a partnership with distributor Arrow Electronics. At an Ignite session this week, Sam George, Microsoft’s director of Azure IoT engineering, and Ashish Parikh, Arrow’s vice president for global IoT platforms and solutions, discussed their partnership, designed to enable CSPs to deliver solutions based on IoT Central.
The relationship between Arrow and Microsoft started on the Windows Embedded side but has evolved into the Azure Cloud Service Provider (CSP) program and Microsoft IoT Solution Aggregator programs. Arrow is now an Azure IoT Accelerate partner, where the distributor can help CSPs build, deploy and manage customer solutions on Azure.
Arrow started working with Microsoft on Azure IoT Central early-technology previews last year and is working to bring complete solutions to market, according to Parikh.
“While IoT Central simplifies the creation of the application and eliminates the complexity of taking the PaaS components to build something, there are still a number of things that need to be addressed for organizations to procure and deploy solutions,” Parikh said. “You have to address the actual sensors, gateways and connectivity at a minimum, that then streams information into IoT Central for visualization and action.”
Parikh demonstrated a sample energy-monitoring solution that leverages a power meter from DENT Instruments connected to the panel via a MultiTech gateway using cellular connectivity. Cloud service providers (CSPs) can offer all the solution components from Arrow very easily, he noted.
“Arrow can also offer flexible lease or as-a-service options for qualified customers to combine all the hardware and recurring subscriptions into a single bill,” he said. “We are working on a number of other kits across retail, smart cities and industrial to allow enterprises to unlock the value of IoT.”
Microsoft demonstrated how users can connect the new Azure Sphere to IoT Central. Azure Sphere, the embedded operating system for edge devices, consists of a custom Linux kernel distribution for embedded devices such as sensors that Microsoft announced in April at the RSA Conference as part of its complete cloud-based IoT solution.
“When it’s available, you’ll be able to connect Azure Sphere to IoT Central and they will work together seamlessly,” Majonichi said.
Christopher Wilder, practice lead for enterprise software and services at Moor Insights and Strategy, said Microsoft is one of the few companies that has focused on bringing cloud, AI and IoT at the edge together.
“I think Microsoft is one of the few guys who can pull it off right now from a leadership perspective,” Wilder said. “But nobody knows where they are in terms of their positioning, strategy and technology.”