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Microsoft Builds Partner Enhancements into IoT Central

Microsoft's Internet of Things (IoT) platform for solution-building partners, known as Azure IoT Central, is being overhauled with a number of major feature updates intended primarily for OEMs, independent software vendors (ISVs) and systems integrators (SIs).

The company released details of the IoT Central changes on Monday as part of a raft of IoT announcements timed to coincide with the IoT Solutions World Congress taking place this week in Barcelona.

Azure IoT Central Features
Microsoft describes IoT Central as an app platform that provides partners with IoT plumbing for connecting devices, managing devices and performance analysis. Partners take their own business and vertical expertise to build an IoT solution on top of the Microsoft framework. They can then white-label the Microsoft parts under their own solutions and either sell directly to customers or sell through the Microsoft AppSource marketplace.

"The value of IoT Central is brought to life when solution builders leverage it to connect and manage their devices, as well as to extend device insights into their line of business applications. This allows solution builders to spend their time and energy in their area of expertise, transforming their businesses through value-adding and brand-differentiating elements," explained Bert Van Hoof, partner group program manager for Azure IoT, in a blog post describing the new features. The blog post provided one of the clearest explanations yet of Microsoft's partner intentions for IoT Central.

Along that theme, several of the coming enhancements address the particular concerns of partners, who need infrastructure that enables them to handle several customers at once and who benefit the most from aspects of Microsoft solutions that allow for repeatable procedures.

One is multitenancy, the ability to have several customers whose individual tenants are separated from one another for security purposes but that can be managed collectively by one partner. "We know that many solution builders need more than just repeatability; they also need manageability to truly scale their investments to customers. Which is why in the coming months, Azure IoT Central will support multitenancy; solution builders can build once and use a multitenancy interface to on-board, configure, and update many customers and organizations globally across regions, offering both device and data sovereignty without sacrificing manageability," Van Hoof said.

Another is public APIs to access features. "Solution builders with extensibility needs beyond device data now have access to Central features through our public APIs. Users can develop robust IoT solutions that leverage IoT Central programmatically as the core for device modelling, provisioning, lifecycle management, operations (updating and commanding), and data querying," he said.

In an effort to jump-start partner practices, Microsoft is also immediately releasing 11 new industry app templates, which are designed to illustrate the types of solutions that partners and customers can build. For retail partners, the templates include Store Analytics Condition Monitoring, Store Analytics Checkout, Digital Distribution Center, Connected Logistics and Smart Inventory Management. For government partners, the templates are Water Quality Monitoring, Water Consumption Monitoring and Connected Waste Management. Microsoft is also providing energy vertical templates of Smart Meter Monitoring and Solar Power Monitoring, and a health care template for Continuous Patient Monitoring.

Other new features for IoT Central include support for IoT Edge, support for IoT plug-and-play, the ability to save and load applications, new data export options, and custom user roles. Microsoft will also roll out a new pricing model sometime next year that is supposed to make the solution's cost more predictable.

Azure Sphere GA Date
Also Monday, Microsoft set a February 2020 general availability date for Azure Sphere. Azure Sphere is Microsoft's ambitious initiative, first announced in April 2018, to put itself at the center of IoT management and security. It consists of a combination of a reference architecture for microcontroller units (MCUs), a Linux-based operating system for the devices themselves, and a cloud-based Azure Sphere Security Service to manage and secure the devices. Earlier this year, Microsoft added a mechanism called "Guardian Modules" to the roadmap, which would serve as a bridge for older IoT devices to be managed under Azure Sphere.

Sam George, corporate vice president of Azure IoT, in a blog post highlighted momentum with the preview versions of Azure Sphere. "Since we first introduced Azure Sphere, we've made tremendous progress delivering on our ambitious product vision, investing in partnerships and capabilities that help us serve customers wherever they are in their IoT journey. This includes our partnerships with silicon leaders to enable heterogeneity at the edge; our longstanding partnership with MediaTek, and our recent partnership announcements with NXP and Qualcomm, which will introduce the first cellular-enabled Azure Sphere-certified chip," George wrote.

Other IoT Enhancements
Microsoft disclosed several other coming enhancements on Monday.

Several new features will reach general availability by the end of November for Azure IoT Hub, the cloud gateway used by IoT Central. The runtime of the Azure Event Grid will be extended to devices with Azure Event Grid on IoT Edge, which allows organizations to publish their own events or connect other modules with built-in event capabilities. Organizations will be able to put their own information into messages with IoT Hub message enrichment. Additionally, IoT Hub will integrate with the regular Azure Event Grid for sending device telemetry events to Azure services.

Azure Maps is already a feature with a lot of usage scenarios for IoT applications that include devices in the field. Now Microsoft is partnering with AccuWeather to add geospatial weather intelligence data into those applications. Common scenarios include "routing, targeted marketing and operations optimization," George said.

Finally, Microsoft is working on a handful of new capabilities for Azure Time Series Insights, which is Microsoft's IoT analytics solution. Those include multilayered storage, flexible cold storage, richer analytic capabilities, scale and performance improvements, and a Power BI connector.

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 28, 2019


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