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Azure IoT services look to simplify use of the emerging tech

The Azure Time Series Insights fully managed service connects with other Azure IoT tools to analyze and store raw data and improve automation.

Microsoft continues to grow its Azure IoT services to make them more palatable to mainstream enterprises.

Azure Time Series Insights is the latest of several Microsoft tools that are tailored for the internet of things (IoT). The fully managed service, currently in public preview, resembles a database service that provides analytics, storage and data visualization on raw data collected from connected devices.

Time Series Insights ingests data from hundreds of millions of sensor events daily and then applies SQL-like filters and aggregates, so the data is available to query in less than a minute. Data, which is stored as raw events, also can be retained for months, so customers can run queries against terabytes of data that is either stored or streaming. Reference data can also be added to the service, and customers don't have to rewrite code to use it.

Codit, an IT services company in Belgium and a Microsoft partner, has worked with Time Series Insights in private preview for more than a year. Codit uses the service to monitor a client's building energy consumption and to collect data from machines in another client's manufacturing plant.

The service helps perform predictive maintenance in the factory and spot usage trends, so companies can make corresponding business decisions, said Sam Vanhoutte, CTO of Codit.

"[Time Series Insights] helps in exploring data that we collect and bases it on that extrapolated findings, so we could go deeper into automation," Vanhoutte said.

Time Series Insights is currently limited to the U.S. West, U.S. East, EU West and EU North regions.

Azure isn't the only public cloud in the IoT space

Microsoft also added two other Azure IoT services: Azure IoT Suite Connected Factory connects with standardized on-premises devices; IoT Central is a software service that abstracts some of the underlying controls found in the Azure IoT Suite. Both services integrate with Time Series Insights. Microsoft also put Azure Stream Analytics on edge devices to extend those analytics capabilities from the cloud to connected devices.

Time Series Insights and IoT Central are part Microsoft's ongoing efforts to simplify and package Azure IoT services to help customers embark on a logical path to do more with IoT, said Alfonso Velosa, an analyst at Gartner.

CIOs lead only about a third of IoT initiatives, while the CTO, chief digital officer or individual business units drive the majority of them, Velosa said. Microsoft wants to introduce a standard set of services to simplify those IoT initiatives and provide examples of how their use could benefit a business. "In practice, there's a lot more details than that, but that's the starting point," he said.

Still, no single vendor dominates the emerging IoT market; Microsoft's Azure IoT services have a lot of competition from companies such as IBM, GE, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and, to a lesser extent, Oracle and SAP. Microsoft's biggest shortcoming is its limitations with compute devices that connect to its network, though it certainly isn't alone in that aspect, Velosa said.

A more fundamental challenge for Microsoft, with IoT defined as endpoints that send data up to the cloud, is the company's endpoint software development kit approach could be more flexible, he said.

Microsoft does have advantages over some of those companies, with a broad set of services and solid infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service offerings, so companies can focus on one vendor. However, AWS also has those global resources.

"AWS is moving fast," Velosa said. "And with that model [of rapid innovation], it's going to challenge not just Microsoft, but everybody."

Trevor Jones is a news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at [email protected].

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