Azure Functions, Azure IoT Edge, Azure Security Center, Hybrid + Multicloud, Thought leadership
Microsoft Azure enables a new wave of edge computing. Here’s how.
By Julia White Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Azure
7 min read
We are going through a technology transformation that is unlocking new scenarios that were simply not possible before. Smart sensors and connected devices are breathing new life into industrial equipment from factories to farms, smart cities to homes, while new devices are increasingly cloud connected by default – whether it’s a car or a refrigerator.
Simultaneously, hybrid cloud is evolving from being the integration of a datacenter with the public cloud, to becoming units of computing available at even the world’s most remote destinations working in connection with public cloud.
Bring these two realities together, with AI running across all systems, and we enter the era of the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.
The intelligent cloud is ubiquitous computing enabled by the public cloud and powered with AI. In this way, we refer to Azure as the world’s computer, powering every type of intelligent application and system our customers envision.
The intelligent edge is the continually expanding set of connected systems and devices that gather and analyze information close to the physical world where data resides, to deliver real-time insights and immersive experiences that are highly responsive and contextually aware.
Enabling intelligent cloud and intelligent edge solutions requires a new class of distributed, connected applications and will ultimately deliver break-through business outcomes. These cloud/edge applications are built as a single solution yet run in a distributed fashion – optimized to take advantage of both robust cloud capabilities and edge locality. At the edge, the application is contextually aware and can run in both connected and disconnected states.
While the era of intelligent cloud and intelligent edge is new, the approach to building and running solutions that take advantage of this architecture is based on enduring principles. Fundamentally, a cloud/edge application must be developed and run as a single environment from the application services to AI to security and management.
Today, I’d like to share with you how we’re building Azure cloud/edge capabilities aligned with these enduring principles while uniquely delivering consistency across the cloud and the edge:
- Consistent app platform across cloud and edge. We’ve built Azure to provide consistency in programming models, data services, AI, and DevOps to simplify cloud/edge app development and ensure on-going app management is efficient. For example, you can develop an event-based application with Azure Functions that runs on Azure, on Azure Stack and on any device with Azure IoT Edge.
- Holistic security. To provide security across the cloud/edge application, Azure Security Center provides unified security management and advanced threat protection for systems running in cloud and on the edge. We also recognize that cloud and edge environments have different security risks, so we have built additional protections including Azure Sphere’s ground-breaking security for MCU-based edge devices.
- Single identity management. Providing single identity controls across the cloud/edge application is necessary to secure and manage applications wherever they reside. Azure Active Directory provides unified identity management and conditional access across the cloud and edge, providing protection from unauthorized access to apps and data wherever it resides.
- Consistent cloud and edge management. With an app distributed across different edge solutions, manageability of the devices and the code they run becomes an important consideration. Azure management tools for monitoring, running updates, backup, and disaster recovery span cloud resources in Azure and the app and devices running at the edge environment.
- Artificial Intelligence. Tapping into the contextual insight from the edge provides Machine Learning models more robust data and thus better results. Azure enables you to combine data in the cloud and from the edge to develop ML models. Then, the same ML models developed and tested in Azure can be distributed to run across a massive set of certified devices running with Azure IoT Edge.
- Comprehensive intelligent edge portfolio to meet every need. While Azure provides a robust set of cloud services and edge devices, we know the diversity at the edge will only grow. This is why we are equally investing with the ecosystem of ISVs, SIs, and solution providers to ensure you have the right edge solution for your unique business. Azure will continue to push the boundaries of the market as we’ve done with Azure Stack that is both cloud and edge, and Azure Sphere that provides unparalleled security for MCU based devices.
Other cloud vendors claim support for cloud/edge computing with servers that run VMs or containers. However, this approach doesn’t recognize the massive diversity of edge devices and use cases, nor provides the consistent approach across app model, management, and security that enterprise solutions require.
To further enable the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge approach, we are announcing a number of new Azure capabilities today.
- Azure Digital Twins. This brand-new Azure service enables you to create a comprehensive digital model of any physical environment. This includes a model of people, places, and things as well as the relationships and processes that bind them. And, this digital model isn’t just a static experience. Azure Digital Twins connects the digital model directly with the devices and sensors in the physical world to keep the digital model always up-to-date. This enables two additional ground-breaking capabilities:
- The ability for digital model changes to trigger business logic and workflows to the physical environment, through an event driven, workflow approach. For a simple example, when everyone has vacated a conference room you can instantly turn off the lights and lower the air conditioning.
- Azure Digital Twins integrates seamlessly with Azure data and analytics services so you can track all past activities, run simulations, and predict the future of your digital model and physical environment.
- Azure IoT Edge extended offline. To address the ever-expanding use cases at the edge, we are adding the capability for IoT devices to operate disconnected from the internet for extended periods with the public preview of Azure IoT Edge extended offline capability.
- Azure IoT Central. Today, Azure IoT Central moves into general availability. Azure IoT Central is a fully managed global IoT SaaS (software-as-a-service) solution that makes it easy to connect, monitor, and manage your IoT assets at scale. This means you can bring your connected products to market faster and provide new value add services to your connection solution.
- Azure Sphere preview. In February 2018, we announced Azure Sphere, a new solution for creating highly-secured, internet-connected microcontroller (MCU) devices running on the edge. Today, we are excited to announce broad availability of the first Azure Sphere dev kit and public preview of the Azure Sphere OS, Azure Sphere Security Service, and developer tools.
- Azure Data Box Edge. Today we are announcing Azure Data Box Edge is available in preview. Azure Data Box Edge enables you to pre-process data at the edge and also move data to Azure efficiently. Azure Data Box Edge uses advanced FPGA hardware natively integrated into the appliance to run machine learning inference algorithms at the edge efficiently. The size and portability allow you to run Azure Data Box Edge as close to users, apps and data as needed.
- Azure Stack. We began shipping our first Azure Stack systems a year ago and we have seen amazing solutions built by our customers to address disconnected and compliance use-cases. We have regularly released new services to run on Azure Stack and today, I’m excited to share that Azure Event Hubs will also be coming to Azure Stack. With Azure Event Hubs on Azure Stack, customers can run cloud-style telemetry ingestion from websites, apps, and any streams of data. We are also expanding capacity for Azure Stack systems enabling customers to use Azure Stack in even more scenarios.
We are also excited to see how customers and partners are solving real-world problems using intelligent cloud and intelligent edge solutions with Azure.
Schneider Electric is gaining a lot more business insight by proactively identifying pump problems real-time through predictive edge analytics. They can shut down pumps before damages occur, protecting machinery and preventing potential environmental damage. “In some critical systems—whether at an oil pump or in a manufacturing plant—you may have to make a decision in a matter of milliseconds,” says Matt Boujonnier, Analytics Application Architect for Schneider Electric. “By building machine learning algorithms into our applications and deploying analytics at the edge, we reduce any communication latency to the cloud or a central system, and that critical decision can happen right away.”
Cree, an innovator of power and radio frequency semiconductors, turned to Azure Data Box Edge to archive the millions of quality-control photos from their manufacturing processes to Azure. They also make use of the edge computing capabilities to package the images into a single file as part of the upload, which leads to easy retrieval and management of the archived data later. This approach helps Cree manage their continued growth of storage without hampering the business. Cree also plans to use Azure Machine Learning to train a model in the cloud and run it on Data Box Edge to detect bad parts as they come off the production line, which enables Cree to easily scale their processes.
iMOKO, a digital health charity, wanted to make sure that the children and communities in remote areas, often without connectivity, have access to healthcare services. “Since using Microsoft Azure Stack, we’ve had a significant improvement in the performance of the iMOKO application. It runs really fast and well, even in rural and remote areas. The key reason for choosing the Azure Stack with Revera was around the reliability and trustworthiness in the healthcare setting,” said Jodi Mitchell, CEO for iMOKO. By using technology at the edge, iMOKO can place health services within an arm’s reach of everyone who needs it no matter where they are in New Zealand.
The intelligent cloud and intelligent edge make it possible to provide consistent power to critical institutions like hospitals and schools, manage precious resources like energy, food and water, as well as create devices that help people who have disabilities or diseases live more comfortably and connect with loved ones, and much more.
We look forward to welcoming you at Ignite 2018 where you will learn more about customers and partners using Azure solutions across the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge, the next wave of computing.