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Microsoft added another piece to its IoT puzzle with its release of an IoT-as-a-Service platform PHOTO: Patrick McManaman

Enterprises looking to introduce internet of things (IoT) capabilities into their workplaces got a new way of doing so this week from Microsoft. 

The new Microsoft IoT Central offers enterprises IoT-as-a-Service, which the company says streamlines the deployment of IoT networks, as well as provides a service to maintain those networks for as long as the enterprise is a subscriber. 

More to the point, IoT Central tackles what has been a sore point in IoT over the past two years, namely recruiting experts to develop and run IoT initiatives.

Microsoft Builds on IoT Foundation

This isn't the first foray into the IoT for Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.

It already offers a platform-as-a-service on Azure known as Azure IoT Suite, for creating an enterprise platform to build on. 

Microsoft also has Azure IoT Hub, a communications platform that enables billions of devices to ‘talk’ to each other using stand IoT communication protocols.

The focus of IoT Central is on app development.

The idea, according to Sam George, partner director of Azure IoT at Microsoft, is to be able to use all of the Microsoft IoT solutions together to create a more customizable and agile IoT presence, which can respond to business needs as they emerge.

“Microsoft IoT Central will be available along with our existing platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution, Azure IoT Suite, which enables deep customization and full control,” George wrote in a blog post.

Microsoft plans to continue investing in and developing the suite. In fact, next week at Hannover Messe industrial show taking place in Hannover, Germany, Microsoft will introduce a new preconfigure offering to the Suite, which it states will speed up the process of moving industries and manufacturing enterprises to the IoT.

Microsoft announced the release of Azure Time Series Insights to coincide with the IoT Central release. Azure Time Series Insights is a fully managed database offering analytics, storage and visualization service that will give enterprises a way of monitoring what is happening around the IoT deployment.

According to George, Azure Time Series Insights offers a view of data as well as a way to discovery hidden trends, spot anomalies and conduct root-cause analysis in near real time.

Big IoT Ambitions

The breadth of the offering may give Microsoft an edge in an increasingly competitive space, but it's early days yet for what is likely to be one of the most lucrative markets in tech.

In 2015, General Electric predicted that investment in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) would top $60 trillion during the next 15 years, while Business Insider Intelligence estimated the investment in IoT will be worth $6 trillion over the next five years

At the moment a number of tech giants, including Google, Cisco, IBM and Microsoft, are slugging it out for dominance, with a number of smaller, agile vendors fighting for the scraps.

One important thing to note with the predictions is the conflation of two different sides of the IoT. From the early days the IoT market has split between the Industrial Internet of Things, or the use of these technologies in industry and manufacturing, and the Consumer IoT.

Microsft’s focus appears to be on the industrial IoT, underlined by the release of Connected Factory, which enables enterprises monitor industrial equipment and devices in the cloud — including already deployed machines. 

“Connected Factory, helps accelerate a customer’s journey to Industry 4.0 and makes it easy to connect on-premises OPC UA and OPC Classic devices to the Microsoft cloud and get insights to help drive operational efficiencies. In addition, it enables customers to securely browse and configure factory devices from the cloud,” Geroge wrote.

Whether all this is enough to give Microsoft the edge it is looking for remains to be seen, but it does give it a significant presence.