Skip to main content

Microsoft's 'intelligent edge,' and how it impacts the world

Cloud computing has moved from "the idealistic next step in computing" advocated by tech companies, to the pragmatic beginning of an intelligent infrastructure with real-world impact and a clear path for growth. Edge computing is arguably the natural evolution of remote computing in the intelligent cloud and local computing on Internet of Things (IoT) devices and consumer electronics.

Many have argued that Microsoft's cloud investments are too far removed from users to have meaningful impact and that edge computing is little more than technical lingo. Those people are wrong. Microsoft's cloud computing investments have real-world impact, and its complementary edge computing strategy is doing the same.

What Microsoft's cloud focus means to you

What is edge computing?

Edge computing refers to the processing of data at the edge of a computer network (cloud), closer to the source of data. To better visualize the intelligent edge one must have a picture of cloud computing. Cloud computing is using a network of remote Internet-hosted servers to store, manage, and process data, rather than local servers or personal computers.

Microsoft's cloud helps companies monitor and maintain equipment, provides infinite storage for enterprise and consumers and merges data from multiple points in a network. Microsoft brings further value to its cloud by empowering its edge via Azure IoT Edge.

With Azure IoT Edge Microsoft moves certain processes that would normally occur in the cloud to devices on the edge of its network. Azure IoT Edge is an IoT service built on top of IoT Hub, which is part of Microsoft's IoT Suite that companies use to manage integrated devices.

Technically speaking Microsoft's Edge solution runs on Linux and Windows and is facilitated by using the Azure IoT runtime that runs on the devices and manages workflows. A workflow is a set of linked containers that developers can use to create an end-to-end scenario. Microsoft is working with cloud providers to bring services like Machine Learning, Stream Analytics and Azure functions to the Edge. Furthermore, Azure IoT scales from devices as small as Raspberry PI to server grade devices. Microsoft's Edge computing solution is designed to be OS independent as it is simply a piece of software running on the Edge.

What's driving Microsoft's Edge computing investments?

Image Credit: Microsoft (opens in new tab)

No company makes substantial investments in a particular technology without first assessing the industry's direction. Consequently, Microsoft said in a blog post last year that (opens in new tab): "In just two years, 45 percent of all data created by IoT will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to or at the edge of the network. And in just three years, 5.6 billion devices will be connected to an edge computing solution. By 2020, it's predicted that 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet."

Not only does Microsoft not want to be left behind, but it also wants to lead in this space. With a cloud position second only to Amazon, it is moving aggressively toward that goal. Microsoft also identifies the following as drivers for its edge investments:

  • A Multi-device world.
  • Artificial intelligence.
  • Serverless computing.

Microsoft's cloud recognizes individual devices on its edge. The Azure data linked via the edge allows Microsoft to improve AI (and Cortana) which is an integral part of its cross-platform edge computing strategy. Microsoft wants to bring intelligence and insights to devices connected to its edge to bring value to customers and consumers.

Edge computing's real-world impact

Microsoft touts that dozens of companies have embraced it Azure IoT Edge solution. Here are a few of those companies:

Sandvick Cormont

Sandvik uses Azure IoT to predict equipment maintenance needs and proactively shut devices down pending failures.

Schneider Electric

Microsoft worked with Schneider Electric to develop sustainable farming in New Zealand. The company used cloud and edge to increase yield while reducing water and electricity costs.

DroneWorks

Japanese company DroneWorks uses Azure IoT Edge and Hub as a secure, scalable solution to collect and analyze flight data from its drones sensors. This will help the company build a standardized industrial drone management system that predicts maintenance needs and malfunctions.

BlueMetal Insight Company

BlueMetal, IndyCar Racing (opens in new tab) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway used Microsoft's solution to build an app that delivers real-time information from inside the cars as they race, directly to the hands of fans.

Ecolab

Microsoft and Ecolab (opens in new tab) are using Azure IoT to help industries around the globe find solutions to the problem of water scarcity.

Living on Microsoft's Edge

Microsoft logo at Ignite

Microsoft logo at Ignite (Image credit: Windows Central)

Microsoft's cloud and Edge investments are more than a collection of ambitious goals and tantalizing buzzwords. They are real investments with real-world impacts. For an interconnected multiplatform world, Microsoft's investments in the technology that brings all platforms and experiences together is both timely and forward-looking.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

46 Comments
  • It impacts literally noone as noone gives two craps about Microsoft besides some soon-to-be-retired old men
  • You haven't read the article nor do you know what it is about.
  • It may have real world impact, but how would we know and why would we care? We certainly care about the services it powers, but anything under the hood is transparent. What a boring Microsoft. How long before we stop paying attention to them at all?
  • It's already happening. The average comment count on news articles is 0-3 these days. Nobody gives a **** anymore because Nutella ruined everything and will completely destroy Microsoft. After windows phone died, I predicted that Windows will die, and it's happening. After windows dies it will have a mass chain effect. Every other major tech company is busy with cloud and AI, so Microsoft is really not that special. People/companies will stop choosing them
  • I am sure they will still be successful, just not in a way that I care about. I just don't care about what service my bank uses for it's cloud infrastructure.
  • I guess you better start your own tech blog since you're so good at predicting these things
  • Better would be if they would let me be CEO. The job it's really not that hard if you have a sense of logic.
  • That's the thing, Dopey Satay thinks Microsoft will be the next IBM, not needing consumers. Well the fact is now tech is tied to being cool. The future IT managers are NOT going to be proposing Microsoft solutions when they will get laughed out of the company for doing so. Microsoft's crash and burn will be the largest in history. Nutella needs to go and needs to go now.
  • Bro, it also depends on Windowscentral. There's just too much advertisements. And the User Interface got cramped with the last time they changed it. I was happily using Windowscentral for years, but now I have different sources. Only sometimes I switch stop WindowsCentral Just to switch it off again 😅
  • I think your far off with your prodictins. Microsoft have some very good selling customer products in the home market with the Xbox and surface line. Business side well the surface is also big here and windows server and office 365 is unrivaled with the other big ones. I don't know of a single business I when supported for the last 10 year to of been on Google mail apart form one who has nothing but issues and moved to office365. I agree normal people will forget about Microsoft outside of windows pc and office but in the business no one is even close. For me I've moved over to Google for sevices Microsoft has dropped like music and phone it's self I now own 3 Google homes to which way out do others on the market but look at the numbers Microsoft are not going anywhere any times soon.
  • I agree in some ways, as consumers we have been abandoned, but as a corporate entity MS is clearly being proactive and adapting to a very quickly changing landscape.
    Say what you will about their consumer based efforts but to me they seem right on the money with this, they are leading the charge in this new and complex field, I have no doubt they will become the new standard for a new computing age.
    We are seeing the dawn of 21st century computing as PC's pass into irrelevance and MS seems very well placed to capitalize in this new space
  • After all that i still don't understand what they mean by the edge of the network.
  • Neither do I. Okay, I admit having skipped the two hours plus video in the article 😄
  • Honestly, doesn't really matter. Pretty irrelevant to consumers.
  • It literally seems like nothing more than a new buzzword for something that has been going on for years. Just another word for IoT devices in a network.... Nothing that most businesses or consumers would care about honestly.
  • It don't matter, to be honest as it still means our data is on someone else computer. Time all this sticking data on systems that is not even in our own country was stopped.
    Even my Doctor wanted to put my Data onto a network, thankfully they have to ask us here and I refused.
  • I think you're being a bit dramatic for one thing. I doubt that anybody has any real objections to MS chasing down the market in Cloud, IOT, and even AI. But not at the expense of mobile... Cortana... the App Store... UWP... HoloLens... and a bunch of other initiatives they were all hyped up about, and were trying to hype developers up about, just a few years ago. At least from my perspective if they swore on their father's name that they would commit fully to Cortana, the App Store, UWP, HoloLens, and if they also released this so called Andromeda device at Build 2018, then all would be forgiven, and then I say yeah... go Microsoft... kill it in the cloud... IOT... AI. But there's absolutely nothing that convinces me that MS will be able to draw developers targeting Amazon Alexa, iOS, and Android to plug their systems into Azure over AWS or Google Cloud.
  • I think this seems abstract to most people. I guess it's easier to relate to a computer on your desktop or in your hand than the idea of viewing it as the edge of a much larger thing. If you think of the cloud as a physical thing, you interact with just the edge of it. The desktop computer, the device, the smart fridge...whatever. To focus only on Windows and PCs will leave Microsoft as a bit player in this world which is in many ways the antithesis of the "walled garden" approach. Microsoft's device agnostic approach is really the only logical way. I'm sure they will get back into mobile but they need to play on the Android, IOS, Linux, Amazon and IOT playing fields as well. I can't understand why some people have so much difficulty understanding that.
  • People can difficulty understanding because of Microsoft's difficulty with explaining.
  • One thing I'll hand Nadella is he has shed the old protectionist ways of MS trying to force everybody to use Windows. He recognizes that there are lots of people using other platforms and he's trying to embrace that. However, the problem is that people tend to over correct. Swing the pendulum too far the other way. Frankly it feels to many folks that he is throwing the baby out with the bath water! Again... does anybody really have a problem with MS porting their apps to iOS and Android? Or a problem with making Azure capable, compatible, even open to other platforms? No sane person at least. But people do have a problem when you start letting your own house become overgrown with weeds while you're out mowing everybody else's yard. Bottom line, the most likely people to buy into Nadella's cloud/AI vision are Windows developers. And its those very people he is taking a royal wiz on.
  • Hit the nail on the head JP. Nadella is a singular focused human. He hyperfocuses on one aspect of his company and ignores every other part. Then, the rest suffers. I love my windows 10 2 in 1 computers, they are great! However, I hope he does not forget to keep the consumer aspects of my OS in tact. Thats my only fear with him moving forward. I moved on from windows mobile years ago because I saw the titanic hitting the "iceberg". Glad I did. I am not a person who will just use one thing and one thing only anymore. There is so much other stuff that is awesome.(i.e., IOS and Android). I will, however, never use MacOS. It's absolute garbage. So, Nadella, don't forget the consumer at the end of their devices loving this OS.
  • Nadella isn't a "big picture" guy. He's a "I care about THIS corner of the room" guy. That much has become *crystal clear* since he took over as CEO.
  • Exactly. The other big CEO he reminds me of is Jim Balsille from RIM. Blackberry was on top of the world of smartphones, he got hyperfocused on bringing an NHL team to waterloo, and Forgot about being CEO. look what happened!
  • What if that Corner of the room houses the big picture? Outside of Xbox, Microsoft has had very little success in the consumer product space. No amount of marketing would make windows phone pass Iphone let alone Android. No amount of marketing would put groove into the leading music streaming service. Heck i've never seen a spotify ad but they have like 100 million users. Apple advertises apple music all the time but they're still a distant second (for now). People like to think that if microsoft would just dumb billions into marketing and supporting X project that Microsoft would be more succesful in the consumer space. Unfortunately business is a lot more complicated than that. Just because you put more money into a product doesnt mean your competitors stop innovating and marketing. So what Nadella has done has taken a long hard look at everything Microsoft has done and said hey "Can we be a leader in this category." Businesses are out to make money. Period. Why waste money on areas that you may never lead in or even turn a profit, when you can focus on areas that make billions and have room for growth to make 10s or 100s of billions? Ford is doing the exact same thing right now. They said hey we barely make money or have a loss on these ranges so we're cutting out everything except what works well (pickups, SUVs, and commercial vehicles in their case) and we're going to invest heavily in this area (smart/connected cities) that we think will be huge in the coming years.
  • It's not something the average person cares about. When people push the gas pedal on a car they just want it to move, they don't really care about how it works, unless you're a mechanic or gearhead or whatever. Same thing here. This is an abstract concept no one cares about, if it makes the devices i use work better, great. Otherwise, meh.
  • It's edge computing another expression for local, regional cloud?
  • Sort of, like hosted services=cloud.
  • Good article Jason. I always like your stuff. It's too bad most folks here don't get it. While AWS may be larger overall, in areas like this MS is out in front. At my work we are working closely with them on a few Azure things. IoT, AI, machine learning and Hololens. The way that Azure connects all this together is really interesting. My MS stock clearly says they are going the right way with this.
  • It isn't that folks "don't get it", it's that Microsoft is not meaningfully communicating or engaging with the consumer side of things. They've completely neglected it, spat in its face and kicked it for its enthusiasm.
  • The only thing MS invests time in, is laying off engineers to keep the stock price high. Their past years history is full of pathetic behavior, mistrust, mediocre quality stuff and crap talking and it keeps going on the same. They have no clue, no vision and no passion. All they know is to abandon stuff, promise and never deliver, or, when they do deliver, the quality is sub mediocre! What you're saying here in this article, has no interest for almost anyone, besides a few desperate fanboys that anyway won't understand what you just described there. MS continuous failures and pathetic behavior will remain in History, in all the books as the biggest technological disaster! I am amazed the Xbox survived this far and was not put to rest by that bald moron.
  • Not to mention that BUILD isn't sold out anymore. Clear sign that developers are losing interest.
  • What's to be interested in? Microsoft continually pulls the rug out from under them, changes directions seemingly at random, communicates AWFULLY with consumers, and generally stumbles around like a drunkard with his shoelaces tied together, while blindfolded, chasing a terrified Roomba.
  • Well Xbox has quite a community and it's being loved by many,i don't think he's willing to risk doing such, this CEO is truly a failure though no doubt
  • I will try to "level" with you. I suspect "pathetic" is your middle name. Completely off-topic but in line with your ongoing off-topic "in-depth" analysis.
  • Setting Nadella's pic always makes me Smh, just saying
  • The guy from Rockwell can't even make his mind up how to pronounce 'data'.
  • While I agree that the "Intelligent Edge" has real world impacts, that doesn't eliminate or even reduce the need for engaging meaningfully with the consumer side of the industry. On the contrary, it's a reason why Microsoft NEEDS to do a better job grabbing the attention of the consumer, educating them in engaging, rapid-fire ways that highlight how and why the Intelligent Edge helps them have a more meaningful computing experience, and then following through with top-tier support, guidance, and products on a predictable, reliable schedule. By ignoring the consumer, Microsoft is shooting its own aspirations in the foot.
  • An entire article on "What is Intelligent Edge?" and I still do not know what that phrase means. "Edge computing refers to the processing of data at the edge of a computer network (cloud), closer to the source of data." "With Azure IoT Edge Microsoft moves certain processes that would normally occur in the cloud to devices on the edge of its network." These two sentences contradict each other. Who is the target audience for the "Intelligent Edge" buzz phrase? Who is it supposed to entice or excite? Apart from not even knowing what it means, I don't even know to whom it is supposed to be interesting or important. Here is article idea, and I think it illustrates Microsoft's problems: "Chocolatey vs. Microsoft's App Store." Chocolately.org is much more useful than Microsoft's own pathetic app store. Puppet, Chef, DSC and Ansible all have tie-ins to Chocolately. IT admins tend to love Chocolatey. Even after all these years of investment, Microsoft's App Store is basically ignored in IT departments and unknown to consumers. PWA's are just the latest flailing attempt to revitalize it. If LibreOffice could edit documents and spreadsheets with 99% compatibility with MS Office (instead of just 90% today), I would have no need for any Microsoft consumer-facing software whatsoever. Microsoft has some really nice cloud-hosted apps, but I don't really need or love them, and there are alternatives that don't invade my privacy, e.g., Sync.com instead of OneDrive, or Posteo.net instead of Outlook.com. Office 365 cloud apps are very nice, granted, but they're not THAT much better than the alternatives, they don't inspire love or loyalty. Microsoft is in trouble...
  • The two statements don't contradict each other. As an example, think of a cloud network like shipping. You order something from walmart.com for example. that order gets processed at a giant warehouse, and your item is shipped to you. The further away the giant warehouse is the longer it takes for you to get your item because of the physical distance as well the number of hand offs that item has to go through to get to you. But lets say the walmart down the street from you has the item you ordered. So instead of your order having to be processed at the warehouse, its processed at your local store allowing you to get your item in minutes or hours instead of days. So in the digital sense, Edge computing is moving the processing of your order (analyzing data, processing server request etc etc.) from giant datacenters to smaller more local data centers and even to the devices that originally created the data. The closer the processing happens to the source of the data, the quicker you get the result. That doesn't mean much to a consumer. By far the biggest processing requests for consumers are that of web pages and streaming media. Moving the processing closer, improves the time by maybe a few miliseconds and reduces the bandwidth requiring less buffering but if you have a decent internet connection you wont notice this at all. But for businesses that do a large amount of data processing the implications are huge. The more data you're generating the greater the benefit of edge computing. Especially when you get into collaboration (multiple users requesting and manipulating the same application). Going back to the walmart example. If you need an item for a school project. If the item is processed at the warehouse it takes days to get to you, and then hours for your friends to come over and start the project. If the item can be found locally, you can each get your own item, you can all go together to get one item, or one person can get the item and others can join them, all in a matter of minutes or hours. Hope that helps. Addressing others comments, that microsoft is in trouble if they don't "cater to consumers". Microsoft will always follow the money, as should any company. They will always have consumer facing products and services but they are content to be the platform provider in as many places as possible. Apple makes very little software but they make a ton off the app store. Amazon makes very few products, but they make billions off being the platform where people buy the things they need. Amazon makes many more billions through AWS. They may not make the next cool app, or video service, but if its hosted on AWS amazon still gets paid. Thats what microsoft sees. They dont have to make the next cool app but if it's hosted on Azure they get paid. If the next cool app is built using VS tools, microsoft gets paid. if they can help make said cool app popular by having it on the windows store and the xbox store, microsoft gets paid. Thats microsoft's goal. That's where the money is. They don't have to advertise a bunch (at least not on tv and in traditional ads) to be succesful at that. an Office 365 commercial is rare, but they lead in that space because they offer tremendous value at a competitive price, and at the end of the day thats all any business cares about. How can i get X service to fulfill my need for as low a cost as possible.
  • Let's assume there are 50 billion devices connected to the internet. Of those, at most 7 billion are smartphones. So who is using the other 43 billion devices? A smartphone can be an edge device. For instance, a user can open their android phone and pull up Google maps, enter an address, and the phone provides directions. You can do this on an iPhone and on my 950. However several years ago, I could use my Windows Phone offline. The phone could access a local map stored on the phone and the GPS on the phone and software to provide you with turn by turn directions. Your android phone using Google maps could only work if you were connected to the cloud. Maybe this will help you all understand the difference between an edge device (a windows phone capable of providing turn by turn directions while disconnected from the internet) versus a cloud-enabled device (an android phone relying on the cloud to send the data to the phone to provide the turn by turn directions). So, the 47 billion non-smartphone devices will be capable of performing operations without depending on the cloud for data and software processes.
  • Folks, if 50 "smart" billion devices are connected to the internet, most will not be smartphones. I do not include light bulbs and thermostats that connect to Alexa. These are just IoT devices that are commanded by other devices. The edge devices make decisions independent of input from a person or the cloud. We talk about a smart grid in traffic management. When should the system change the timing sequence of traffic lights? Would these decisions be driven by a master algorithm receiving sensor data from 1000s of locations throughout the cities roads? Would the decisions be driven by many devices receiving data from a subset of the sensors? While developers may be interested in developing apps to sell to millions of smartphone consumers, I would wager that there are developers that would like to develop apps for a city-wide smart grid system or a smart distribution system as large as WalMarts.
  • I understand people not liking MS for abandoning phones and I was disappointed too, because I really didn't want to have to choose between using Android or iPhone. However, I've since moved on from my Luma 950 XL to a Note 8. It's a great device and I can still use most of the MS service that I used on my Luma, aside Movies & TV. But, let's be realistic. MS did honestly try to push Windows 10 Mobile, even when they saw it going down hill. Granted, there are things that they could have done early on that might have helped the position of phones and MS's position in the market. As a result, Cortana suffered and became less noticed in the mobile market. Now, MS has cloud and service focus. This is the thing that they need to focus on to remain relevant. Despite the size of MS, having to many consumer products has shown to be their weakness, for now. I think it's good for them to focus on areas they are strongest and refocus on others, once they have a good foothold.
  • Except they're not strongest. Speaking as one who wishes both Apple and Google disappeared from the face of the earth, along with that Android garbage, I am also honest enough to say Microsoft has virtually destroyed any real hope of maintaining relevance. They were late to phones and DIDN'T put as much effort as I think they should have. They REBOOTED their phone approach one too many times. They essentially did the same with Windows. I find fewer and fewer of my friends all that keen to use Office products, since format compatibility has become less of an issue between competing productivity software platforms. Sad to say, my lame friends love their iPhones and Android phones and are generally fine using whatever productivity apps come with those devices. At this point, I don't know if there really is a way out for Microsoft. Amazon, of all companies, really is eating their lunch in some critical spaces that affect both consumers AND business. Google's doing the same thing. As much as the direction (and products) Microsoft has moved to disappoint the heck out of me, I'll stick with them until I can't any longer. After that, who knows. But I have very little faith they'll dig themselves out.
  • I have always had a problem with using the term "edge computing". I think "fog computing" more aptly describes what's happening. Because of the very way cloud computing works, I think there really is no "edge". Words mean things, and they create certain images. I have very specific visual impressions of what the edge of something is. "Fog", however, generates its own imagery, and I feel does a better job of describing what's happening. I do think it's funny that the same drive to move toward edge/fog computing (specifically "server-less computing") means other devices (multiple devices, usually) must DO the computing. SETI essentially leverages this. Hackers leverage this in the DOS attack methods. Obviously, IoT expansion will take a lot of this on, but I can't help but think that your machine and mine will end up part of the pathway to eliminate servers for computing. Also funny is that Microsoft wants to move toward this "server-less computing" idea, but where is data actually stored? You can come up with some other name, but they will be SERVERS. If fog/edge computing is meant to have the work done CLOSER to the SOURCE, where do you think the computing will likely happen? Often the server. So, I think these are all interesting ideas, but I don't think some of them make as much sense outside just creating cool buzzwords. All of this is really just under the bigger concept of SHARED computing. And I think we've seen that a huge portion of consumers aren't too keen on sharing their devices or data to make that happen. Anyone who thinks none of this impacts them is clearly not paying attention. However, I think it's fair to say that most will be completely unaware of it behind-the-scenes....even if some of their computers/devices are actively participating.
  • Ugh, just for kicks I watched most of Satya's BUILD 2017 keynote again and my word the man is so abstract. You really have to listen closely... rewind... listen more closely. And I think that's part of why BUILD 2018 isn't sold out yet. The other factor being that Google I/O overlaps BUILD and many developers see MS' ecosystem as a sinking ship now, and want to get on board with a company with a vibrant ecosystem. But back to "intelligent edge"... people need to see clearly in their minds how concepts apply to their own world. To be truly inspired you need to be able to see exactly how YOU can apply the principles in a PRACTICAL way in the job you are CURRENTLY working in. That said, after reading Jason's article, and listening to Satya's monologue I can't for the life of me think of one blasted thing we could do with the "intelligent edge" in the enterprise-level business I work in. We have no manufacturing plants filled with robots building cars. We have no real need to monitor the performance of our fleet cars. I really don't believe AI is advanced enough where we could actually write a "chatbot" capable enough of handling the tough calls our customers make to us on a day to day basis in our call center. People hate our automated phone system enough as it is! Okay, our field agents are at times out in the boonies and disconnected from the internet, sure, but I can't imagine just what data they would need to gather and analyze real time, while disconnected. Our company uses Azure for Active Directory purposes. And we are exploring using it for DR (Disaster Recovery). But beyond that. Nobody in our shop is talking IOT and AI, and we have some fairly early-adopting, visionary folks in IT. When you have to work super hard to figure out how the information applies to you it starts to sound like the teacher in Peanuts. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now (well actually I'll be retired 20 years from now I hope) but yeah 20 years from now we'll all have a good laugh about "how in the world did we exist before the 'intelligent edge'?" But for now, it's so abstract, that its tough to see how it applies to mere mortals.
  • Nutella announces Edge. Big deal, I cannot believe a word he says.