Microsoft lifts the lid on its 'Internet of Things' platform

Software giant's Azure Intelligent System Service represents a major expansion of its enterprise strategy for IoT.

Microsoft has thrown open a preview version of its upcoming platform for connecting potentially billions of devices to the internet so that Australian organisations can try it out.

Barb Edson, general manager of marketing at Microsoft for its commercial Internet of Things (IoT) offering, said organisations globally could try out a limited public preview of its Azure Intelligent System Service — a cloud platform that links to an organisation’s internet connected devices.

The presentation, held at Microsoft’s North Ryde Australian headquarters yesterday, included example of organisations already linking to the Internet of Things with Microsoft’s software. They included a joint venture between Microsoft, CGI and Telent involving sensors and cameras monitoring the London Underground’s critical assets.

Sensors at stations in the London underground monitor line status, temperature, vibrations of equipment, humidity and people movements, which are viewed from an intelligent system service console.

Operators can click on a button anywhere on a station map to view video of people movements in fast motion.

A connected device that monitors vibrations and the position of wheel bearings in an escalator can warn ahead of time that the escalator needs to be serviced in the next 72 hours, or it will break down. Other non-urgent work already logged for that escalator can be accessed and scheduled to take place at the same time.

Another example was the trial in Australia of 50 digitally connected drink fridges by Coca-Cola Amatil in partnership with digital marketing company tkm9. The fridges feature transparent LED screens that entice consumers to take part in surveys, virtually try on clothing, and interact with their social networks. Tkm9 says its software can detect gender, age and the mood of consumers.

The intelligent drink machine can be programmed via the cloud and can even offer special prices based on metrics. For example, it could lower drink prices during a prolonged heatwave to rapidly increase the amount sold.

Tkm9’s Mark Hodgens said that in one day, 9000 people interacted with one of the fridges at Melbourne Central.

Ms Edson said Australian organisations wanting to use the IoT platform could develop their implementation and be in production now, but they would be connected to Microsoft’s US data centre rather than locally. In some cases that would be fine, in others there may be latency issues.

She did not give a time frame for the platform’s full release, saying that its local availability was not linked to the launch of Microsoft’s Australian data centre flagged for this calendar year.

Ms Edson quoted market research firm IDC which last year estimated there would be 212 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. IDC also estimated the internet of things would be worth $US7.3 trillion by 2017. In Australia there would be a $6.5 billion data dividend impact over 4 years if the IoT was used appropriately.

Microsoft is taking a ubiquitous approach to connecting any kind of embedded device to its IoT service, no matter its original platform or system software it uses.

She said a version of Microsoft Windows for smaller footprint devices would be available for free, but gave no indication of the time frame for its release.

She said in many cases Microsoft would be assisting business to adapt their existing infrastructure to the Internet of Things.

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