Internet of Things

Is Microsoft’s Azure Anything To Write Home About?

If an established tech company wants to quickly make its name in an emerging product category — say the Internet of Things — there are two general ways to go about it. First and easiest is to just buy up any smaller company making strides in IoT and fold its successes into the new partnership.

Second and much more difficult is what Microsoft opted for: building a completely new IoT services platform, Azure, from the ground up.

The original tech giant announced the launch of Microsoft Azure on Thursday (Feb. 4). Sam George, partner director for the Azure IoT project, explained that the platform will serve as a linchpin to Microsoft’s long-term strategy in the battle for IoT supremacy.

“Over the past three-plus months, nearly 30 industry leaders have joined the program,” George explained in the blog post. “Today, even more are announcing their participation, including Advantech, Dell, HPE and Libelium. Each of these partners brings their own unique perspective and value proposition to the IoT landscape, and we’re thrilled announce such widespread industry involvement in Azure Certified for IoT.”

While Microsoft is finding itself a little behind the eight ball in IoT, competitors like Intel and Cisco have been busy scooping up startups that specialize in the tech. Azure does contain some useful features that might get some developers looking its way, despite its age. BetaNews reported that Azure is built upon an IoT framework that allows for bidirectional communication — devices sending data to the cloud and a remote engine sending directions and triggers back to devices.

But so what if Microsoft released yet another tech product? Is this really front-page news? If Microsoft’s Azure platform indicated only that the tech giant is moving into an industry already crowded with new and established names alike, it’d just add to the white noise. However, a few clues point to something at Microsoft lying just beneath the surface of all the news swirling around Azure.

ZDNet reported that, in a somewhat un-Microsoft-like move, the company actually released Azure free of charge to interested developers and code tinkerers. The gratis package includes support for 8,000 cloud-to-device or device-to-cloud messages every day. Subsequent bundles for enterprise operations and larger ones still carry more modest charges, but the willingness of Microsoft to embrace an open-source ethos for its new IoT project should be heartening for everyone who remembers slightly more litigious days a decade or two past.

And, for Microsoft, winning users over to Azure isn’t just a matter of maintaining technical standards. To go toe to toe with established Web services behemoths like Amazon, which already enjoy a sizable lead in market share and exposure, Microsoft needs to hit the ground not just running but sprinting to make the cloud-based IoT services race a competitive one.

Just by throwing its hat into the ring, though, Microsoft may have set a challenge to other rivals.

“I like that Azure is giving Amazon a run for its money,” Patrick Moorhead, president and principle analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy, told Mashable. “Right now, as it relates to big businesses, it’s a two-horse race.”

A two-horse race that’s seeing a lot of movement. At a recent earnings call, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that the company’s commercial cloud run rate had ballooned 70 percent compared to last year, for an annual total of $9.4 billion. If Amazon can’t get its clients similarly excited about the future of its own Web services — that is, excited enough to keep the money rolling in — it knows better than anyone else that Microsoft isn’t going to give it time to get its IoT feet back under it.

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