Microsoft pushes machine learning to the edge

Microsoft’s global IoT director on edge computing and the company’s US$5 billion investment in IoT

Microsoft’s new Azure edge computing offerings are helping customers extend the reach of its cloud-based machine learning services, according to Clayton Fernandez, the company’s global director, Internet of Things.

In November last year, Microsoft launched a public preview of Azure IoT Edge, including offering developers access to its AI Toolkit for Azure IoT Edge

In June this year, Azure IoT Edge hit general availability, offering customers of Microsoft’s cloud service new capabilities including support for the Moby container management system at the edge, the Azure IoT Edge security manager, an Automatic Device Management (ADM) service, and a range of tools for developers. Coinciding with the announcement that it had been GAed, Microsoft open sourced the IoT Edge code and posted it on GitHub.

“We started with putting a PC on everyone’s desk,” Fernandez told Computerworld. “Next came everyone having smartphones in their pockets — but now things are going to start getting really interesting with this whole universe of interconnected devices that are coming together in the intelligent cloud.

“Today we’re accepting billions of signals securely; we ingest, we reason, we take action – we call it the intelligent edge because these devices are becoming so capable that they’re helping power some of the most advanced algorithms. So they can now start to listen, reason, predict – and all of this without having Internet connectivity.”

“It’s not just about the product, it’s really about that whole entire ecosystem — bringing hardware partners along, making sure our developers know how to leverage the IoT Edge GitHub repository and really just bringing everyone together,” Fernandez said.

“Also from a customer perspective – bringing those solutions and making them come to life. One of the things we’ve realised is customers really need to get to value very quickly, and that’s part of our overall strategy — to really simplify IoT. That includes edge, that includes our solution accelerators, that includes our SaaS offering with IoT Central as well.”

One of the Australian customers taking advantage of Azure IoT Edge is Newcrest Mining. The resources company is using Azure’s machine learning services to help optimise some of its crushers.

“They want to get real-time insights and for a lot of these sites, they’re not going to be Internet-connected,” said Fernandez, who is a keynote speaker at this week’s IoT Impact conference in Sydney. “So they really need those capabilities sitting on those end point devices, those crushers, to help them optimise their operations.”

Across the ditch in New Zealand, Vulcan Steel is using edge computing to help boost safety — analysing the video footage captured from truck-mounted cameras to detect and analyse potential problems even when there is no network connection.

“When they are connected to the cloud, things resynchronise again — but they don’t always need to be connected to the cloud,” Fernandez said.

“If you’ve got a latency intolerant environment, where you can’t afford the latency to head back up to the cloud, and you need to make those decisions on a very real-time basis, it makes a lot of sense,” Fernandez said.

“Also, if you’ve got a lot of data — you might have a lot of video streams or images and it doesn’t make sense to send that up to the cloud. You may just want to send anomalies back to the cloud.”

Another scenario where edge computing makes sense when there is only infrequent or sporadic network connectivity.

In April, Microsoft announced its plan to invest around US$5 billion into the Internet of Things ecosystem over the next four years.

“This increased investment will support continued innovation in our technology platform, as well as supporting programs,” Microsoft’s announcement said.

“We will continue research and development in key areas, including securing IoT, creating development tools and intelligent services for IoT and the edge, and investments to grow our partner ecosystem.”

That funding will include the company’s global R&D efforts, but also its efforts to promote IoT-related standards, build new products and services and strengthen Microsoft’s software and hardware partner ecosystem, Fernandez told Computerworld. “Our mission around all this is to enable every company and every organisation to really start to reap the benefits of IoT,” he said.

“We’re working across a number of different industries and we really want to be able to touch every single organisation and company to help them get to value with IoT quicker.”

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Tags cloud computingMicrosoftmicrosoft azuremachine learningInternet of Things (IoT)

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