At the 2017 annual Microsoft developers conference, referred to as Connect();, the company announced that several new Azure IoT Edge tools were available for preview. These tools allow businesses to create applications that run at the very edge of the cloud. Microsoft calls this part of the enterprise network the intelligent edge.

Out here on the edge

To clarify, the intelligent edge is where the various IoT sensors and devices are located. The data these sensors measure and collect must be processed to be useful. In many cases, it is just more efficient for the data processing to take place at the sensor level–on the edge of the network. This is particularly important for data that is time sensitive.

An obvious example is the autonomous vehicle. If sensors detect an obstacle in the direct path of the vehicle, it does not make sense for that information to be sent to the cloud for processing and only then for the decision to brake to be transmitted back to the vehicle. The round trip would make the information moot. The processing must be done at the vehicle level–at the edge.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to edge computing (Tech Pro Research)

Here’s where the real importance of IoT is going to be revealed. As the sensors become more sophisticated, they are going to require more sophisticated applications. This is why part of the new set of development tools for Azure IoT Edge announced by Microsoft at the 2017 Connect(); conference concerned artificial intelligence and machine learning. A sensor searching for physical defects in a manufactured product is going to have to know what a defect is–as well as what to do when it finds one.

With the AI and machine learning technical foundation for these tasks provided by Azure IoT Edge, developers can create applications that not only collect data but make intelligent decisions based on that data in ways we can only begin to imagine.

Edge computing–and what it will eventually grow into in the future–are just in the beginning stages. It is difficult for Microsoft or any company to predict where edge computing will lead us. However, Microsoft’s strategy is to provide the technical foundation with Azure IoT Edge that makes it possible.

SEE: Special report: Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (free TechRepublic PDF)

Microsoft’s gambit

Microsoft believes, and there is little reason to argue with it, that edge computing is going to be vital to the modern enterprise. With Azure and Office 365, the company has already established a strong presence in the cloud market and in the productivity market, respectively. But the cloud edge is a nascent technology area where market share is still up for grabs.

By adding new tools to the Azure IoT Edge toolkit, Microsoft hopes to tap into the need for enterprises to develop applications for edge sensors and devices. While Microsoft can’t predict what applications enterprises will need specifically, it can anticipate the types of applications required and provide the technical foundation for their creation. This is yet another example of Microsoft’s learning from past mistakes by working to get out ahead of a budding technology rather than trying desperately to catch up to a mature one.

Also read…

Your thoughts

Does your enterprise have any edge applications yet? Share your thoughts and opinions with fellow TechRepublic members in the discussion thread below.