For the last decade, one of the most significant topics in technology has been the role of the cloud itself, and discussion is often framed around which workloads and technology should be deployed and managed locally. And this decision is usually seen as a binary. You can pick cloud or local, but not both. But the truth is often in the middle, and today, the possibilities are more varied. The question today is, how does a company use local and cloud resources to achieve great efficiency, impact, and better overall value?
The new generation of IoT solutions will take advantage of both cloud and the edge to analyze and immediately respond to mission-critical data locally, while sending the data for further processing (such as training machine learning models) to the cloud. While edge computing has historically been concentrated in manufacturing and industrial settings, it is now making an impact in non-traditional sectors.
Edge computing refers to data processing power at the edge of the network, closer to the source of data. With edge computing, each device—whether it be a smartphone, drone, sensor, robot, HVAC unit, autonomous car, or other intelligent device—takes some of the data processing performed by the cloud and packages it up for processing and analysis at the edge.
By 2021, edge computing is expected to be an $80 billion market, presenting tremendous opportunities for partners to build innovative solutions such as intelligent transportation networks, integrated energy systems, smart factories, and digital cities—transforming how entire industries approach their work. Device data does not have to go through the round-trip to the cloud for a command to be sent back, drastically reducing response time in mission critical scenarios. By having a closed loop of processing power around the edge device itself, customers are also saving cost by choosing what data needs to be sent to the cloud.
Recently, Microsoft worked together with Schneider Electric to develop an IoT solution for sustainable farming in New Zealand leveraging both cloud and edge, reducing water and electricity costs while increasing yield. As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it when he announced Microsoft Azure IoT Edge in May: “We’re moving from what is today’s mobile-first, cloud-first world to a new world that is going to be made up of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge.”
Extending cloud intelligence to edge devices
Using Azure IoT’s existing infrastructure, dozens of Microsoft partners are already at work creating transformative experiences for their customers. For example, BlueMetal, an Insight company, partnered with IndyCar Racing and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to build an app that delivers to the palm of Indy 500 fans’ hands real-time information coming directly from inside the cars as they race. In another instance, Microsoft partner Ecolab is tapping into the Azure IoT to help industries worldwide find solutions to the problem of water scarcity.
Our goal with Azure IoT Edge is to further expand these existing cloud capabilities by enabling partners to extend cloud intelligence to edge devices. The edge capabilities will be part of Microsoft’s core Platform-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service IoT offerings—including Microsoft Azure IoT Suite and Microsoft Azure IoT Central. Partners will be equipped to develop services that use compute power in the cloud, at the edge, or a combination of both.
A complete ecosystem of edge offerings
With Azure IoT Edge providing the foundational infrastructure between cloud and edge, partners can build higher up the value chain. Eventually, they will develop an entire ecosystem of edge offerings ranging from simple services to sophisticated solutions for customers around the globe. In addition to Microsoft cloud services such as Microsoft Cognitive Services, Azure Stream Analytics, and Azure Machine Learning, partners can build their own advanced services that run at the edge—incorporating capabilities such as advanced analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence with less time and effort. They can also combine services from Microsoft and other technology providers to offer customers complete solutions that incorporate edge computing to address their needs.
Getting solutions to market faster
Using existing modules from the Azure IoT Edge ecosystem, partners can significantly reduce their development and maintenance costs, while bringing new solutions quickly to market. Azure IoT Edge simplifies development, making it easy for partners to customize solutions that meet their customer’s specific needs.
In a typical IoT implementation, organizations need hardware developers for programming IoT devices, software developers proficient in cloud technologies, and developers with specialized programming language skills. with Azure IoT Edge, developers will be able to use the same programming languages they’re already familiar with to build and test their IoT applications and then deploy them to a wide range of edge devices—greatly reducing the learning curve, and thus their development time.
Azure IoT Edge holds tremendous promise for our partners—and even more so when combined with the cloud. As our partners work to build out the edge ecosystem, they will create breakthrough experiences that radically improve efficiency and productivity for their customers. If you did not get the chance to attend Microsoft Inspire in person, you can watch Sam George, Director of the Azure IoT Engineering Team, speak about “Simplifying IoT Further with Cloud and Edge” in his session, or learn more about Azure IoT Edge.
 Research and Markets, “$80 Billion Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) Opportunity: Market Assessment and Forecasts 2016 – 2021,” January 13, 2017: https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2017/01/13/905653/0/en/80-Billion-Mobile-Edge-Computing-MEC-Opportunity-Market-Assessment-and-Forecasts-2016-2021.html