Unlocking the IoT promise—from the intelligent cloud to the intelligent edge

We’ve been making a big push to enable developers to build IoT solutions that not only improve how businesses operate but also create real-world impact, from the intelligent cloud to the intelligent edge. Last month, we also announced that we will invest $5 billion in IoT over the next four years to continue to bring the best tools, services, security and experiences to connected solutions. At Microsoft Build 2018, our annual developer event—we are bringing together some 6,000 developers, customers and partners in Seattle and many more online—to learn how we’re advancing that effort by unveiling a range of new features, programs, and partnerships.

Enabling the intelligent edge

The intelligent edge combines software and hardware to aggregate and analyze data near the device where it was collected, rather than in the cloud. This enables near-real-time data analysis, reduced bandwidth usage between the edge and the cloud, and advanced AI to run directly on the device. As Build attendees will find out, at Microsoft we’re focused on enabling developers with both software and hardware components of the intelligent edge.

Azure IoT Edge updates

At Microsoft Build 2017, we introduced Azure IoT Edge to the Azure IoT portfolio, which enables edge devices to run artificial intelligence (AI), Azure services, and custom logic to generate insights—then quickly act on those insights—locally and autonomously. Since then, we’ve worked with customers to deploy a range of Azure services to the edge, including Azure Functions, Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Machine Learning and SQL Server databases. This year, we’re introducing several new capabilities and support offerings to give developers the tools they need to drive innovation at the intelligent edge, including:

  • Microsoft Cognitive Services support for edge deployment: Microsoft’s Cognitive Services APIs enable developers to create solutions that can recognize objects, speak, listen, interpret, and more. We are taking this functionality to the edge. Initially available for the Custom Vision service, the Cognitive Services support for Azure IoT Edge will enable connected devices such as drones and industrial equipment to take critical action quickly without requiring always-on cloud or network connectivity.
  • Event routing at the edge: Azure Event Grid is a fully managed event routing service that allows for uniform event consumption using a publish-subscribe model with push capabilities. Event Grid makes it easy to connect events across apps, services, and organizations. The flexibility, interoperability, and power of Event Grid is coming to Azure IoT Edge, so you connect services and modules the way you would in Azure.
  • Open sourcing the Azure IoT Edge runtime: Azure IoT Edge already supports an open ecosystem of services in containers. Microsoft is furthering our commitment to openness by open sourcing the Azure IoT Edge runtime. With access to the runtime source code, developers will gain even greater flexibility and control of their edge solutions, enabling them to modify the runtime and debug issues.
  • Support for Kubernetes: Azure IoT Edge is built on open container technologies, which allows it to integrate seamlessly with other amazing projects in the ecosystem. Today, we are adding support for Kubernetes management using the Virtual Kublet project, which opens new possibilities for greater consistency in cloud and edge configuration, as well as the ability to add identical configurations across IoT Hubs. This enables Kubernetes clusters to span across the cloud and edge.
  • Rich toolset for building, testing, deploying, and maintaining edge applications. Developers can build Azure IoT Edge modules using familiar tools such as VSCode in multiple languages. This allows development, debugging, packaging in a container, and deployment—all from within the same tooling experience. In addition, we are providing tools for continuous integration and continuous deployment, using Visual Studio Team Services and Microsoft Team Foundation Server to build, test, and deploy applications quickly and efficiently to your IoT edge.
  • IoT Edge marketplace: Partners and developers will soon be able to share and monetize Azure IoT Edge modules through Azure Marketplace, as well as browse and find pre-built edge modules. This is a first step toward building a rich Azure IoT Edge ecosystem with ready-to-use solutions for all industries.

Intelligent edge device updates

We’ve also expanded hardware support in a number of areas, including two important partnerships, which will make Azure IoT Edge even more open, useful, and easy to use for developers:

  • Partnering with leading drone company DJI. Microsoft and DJI are collaborating to develop commercial drone solutions, leveraging Azure IoT Edge and AI technologies for customers in key vertical segments such as agriculture, construction, and public safety. DJI and Microsoft are already working together to advance technology for precision farming with Microsoft’s FarmBeats solution, which aggregates and analyzes data from aerial and ground sensors using AI models running on Azure IoT Edge.
  • Microsoft and Qualcomm to create AI developer kit for on-device inferencing on the edge. We are announcing a joint effort with Qualcomm, one of the largest mobile and IoT chipset manufacturers in the world, to create a vision AI developer kit and empower Qualcomm’s latest AI hardware accelerators to deliver real-time AI on devices without the need for constant connectivity to the cloud or expensive machines. This vision AI developer kit brings all the key hardware and software required to develop camera-based IoT solutions using Azure IoT Edge and Azure Machine Learning—helping developers deliver the next generation of AI-enabled robotics, industrial safety, retail, home and enterprise security cameras, smart home devices, and more.
  • Accelerated AI for real-time decision-making at the edge. As part of the availability announced today for Azure Machine Learning hardware accelerated models powered by Project Brainwave, we are also announcing a limited preview of Project Brainwave on the edge, which brings real-time AI from our Intelligent Cloud to the Intelligent Edge. Enabled by Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge, we will be providing industry-leading deep neural network (DNN) performance in Azure that will be made available on-premises by acting as an Azure IoT Edge device. Project Brainwave provides the latest in DNN inferencing, with the lowest latency and lowest for cost real-time AI in the industry.
  • The Azure Certified for IoT program now supports hardware for Azure IoT Edge. We are expanding the existing Azure Certified for IoT Device Catalog program to include IoT Edge hardware. We partnered with HPE, Advantech, and Moxa to provide secure edge hardware to enable secured IoT devices from chipset to the cloud. We will certify IoT Edge hardware based on core functionalities the device provides, such as security, device management, advanced services like AI, and more.

All this builds on recent momentum in edge hardware innovation. Just last month at the RSA Conference, we announced Azure Sphere, an industry-first solution that combines the power of a new class of microcontroller (MCU) with built-in security, a purpose-built OS that’s optimized for security and agility, and a cloud security service that guards every device. Azure Sphere extends our reach to the outer regions of the intelligent edge, enabling us to serve and secure an entirely new category of devices: the billions of MCU-powered devices that are built and deployed each year.

To help device manufacturers unlock the opportunity of the IoT on these devices, the Azure Sphere solution also includes a set of Visual Studio tools that radically modernize the development experience for MCU-powered devices. Azure Sphere dev kits, from Seeed Studio, will include everything you need to get started prototyping and developing Azure Sphere applications. You can pre-order yours today to be first in line when they’re available in the coming months.

Windows 10 IoT

Windows 10 IoT enables developers to create powerful solutions at the edge that are secure and scalable, and feature built-in integration with Azure IoT. Today at Build, we are announcing new capabilities for Windows 10 IoT. In the next release of Windows, Windows AI platform with Windows 10 IoT, Azure Machine Learning, and Azure IoT Edge will provide hardware-accelerated machine learning model evaluation with any DirectX 12 compute device. This technology will enable you to extract the most performance from the broadest range of modern hardware. Today, nearly any new Windows PC will have a DirectX 12-compatible GPU, giving you a broad range of choices for your intelligent edge solution.

In addition, we are excited to share an update on our recent partnership announcement with NXP. Microsoft and NXP will release commercial support for IoT Core with i.MX6 and i.MX7 with the next release of IoT Core. We are investing in the platform and continue to see great momentum building with Windows 10 IoT enabled devices.

Improving the intelligent cloud

Although the intelligent edge grows in ubiquity, it also remains at the core of IoT data storage, processing, and analysis. Today Microsoft is announcing several ways we will be making the IoT cloud more intelligent than ever.

Azure IoT Hub Improvements

We’re announcing several updates to Azure IoT Hub—our PaaS service for connecting and managing IoT devices easily and securely—in preview:

  • Automatic device management enables customers to specify configurations or deployments once, and then have IoT Hub automatically manage devices as they are added to IoT Hub—perfect for handling the complexities of deploying and monitoring device updates at scale.
  • Module twins allow fine-grained management for applications on devices, or even modules within an application, such as an IoT Edge deployment.

Azure Maps

After six months of public preview and lots of great customer feedback, Azure Maps—formerly Azure Location Based Services—is now generally available. Azure Maps is a portfolio of geospatial APIs natively built within Azure. It enables developers to seamlessly integrate maps, search, routing, time zones, and traffic to their applications. Today it includes new functionality:

  • Geometry search enables search within a given geometry or set of geometries.
  • Nearby search enables search within a specified radius of a given point.
  • Search along route enables search along a specific route.
  • A new static image API generates embeddable map images using Azure Maps’ branded design.

Azure IoT solution accelerators

Today we announce the latest update of Azure IoT Remote Monitoring, a solution accelerator that is fully operational right out of the box. New features include:

  • Enhanced user interface, with richer operator experiences
  • Enhanced operator scenarios, including rules and streaming powered by Azure Stream Analytics
  • Easier device connectivity, enabling you to see your device details seamlessly light up
  • Better maps, now powered by Azure Maps, the latest technology to provide geospatial context to data
  • Richer integration options with services such as Power BIAzure Time Series Insights, and Azure Data Lake

We are also launching a collaboration with Telefónica to enable integration with its IoT connectivity platform. Customers using Remote Monitoring and Telefónica’s IoT connectivity platform can manage their SIM-powered devices using Remote Monitoring.

In addition to Azure IoT solution accelerators—formerly known as Azure IoT Suite—we are excited to announce an update of the Azure IoT Reference Architecture. This is a comprehensive guide for developers and architects wanting to understand technological choices behind a cloud solution for IoT. You can read the first section today here, and we will be publishing additional ones in the coming weeks.

Customers using the Remote Monitoring solution can connect to business processes, using Dynamics 365 for Field Service to proactively detect, troubleshoot, and resolve issues remotely. This results in a shift from costly scheduled maintenance plans to just-in-time maintenance.

It’s an exciting time to be a developer, and we can’t wait to see what our customers build next.

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