Like clockwork, Microsoft times a flood of service updates to coincide with (and precede) its Build developer conference in Seattle, Washington. This year is no exception; today saw the debut of Azure SQL Database Edge, a small-footprint database engine for edge devices, and IoT Plug and Play, a no-code toolkit for connecting internet of things devices to the cloud.
“While much attention has been paid to the cloud innovations, the advancements at the edge are becoming equally remarkable. And, of course, the experiences built using the cloud and edge together are what become truly transformative,” wrote corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure Julia White in a blog post. “The intelligent cloud and intelligent edge application pattern, transforms the way we can interact with digital information and further blend the physical and digital worlds for greater societal benefit and customer innovation.”
Azure SQL Database Edge, which will soon be available in preview for members of the Early Adopter Program, migrates many of the capabilities offered by Microsoft’s Azure SQL Database and SQL server to hardware-constrained devices. It supports Arm and x64-based edge gateways and machines, and offers low-latency analytics that combine data streaming and time-series data, with in-database machine learning and support for graph data.
Database Edge’s other spotlight features include policies that protect data at rest and in motion, a programming surface in common with Azure SQL Database and SQL Server, and support for cloud-connected and fully decentralized edge scenarios. Additionally, Database Edge works with Microsoft Power BI, a business analytics service that facilitates the creation of reports, dashboards, and more.
“[With Database Edge], you can easily take your applications to the edge without having to learn new tools and languages, allowing you to preserve consistency in application management and security control,” said executive vice president of Microsoft’s cloud and AI group Scott Guthrie. “Intelligent cloud and intelligent edge applications have evolved from primarily low-compute IoT devices working with the cloud to powerful compute at the edge, which requires a new modern hybrid application approach … This consistency in database programming and control plane across cloud and edge is essential to running a secure and well-managed hybrid application.”
So what about IoT Plug and Play? Microsoft is pitching it as a new modeling language to imbue IoT devices with the power of the cloud. Much like Plug and Play allowed PC users to connect peripherals without having to worry about interoperability, IoT Plug and Play enables developers to connect IoT devices to cloud platforms without having to write embedded code.
Devices that support IoT Plug and Play are available in the Azure IoT Device Catalog. The first wave includes “dozens” from partners such as Compal, Tokyo Electron Device, Atmark Techno, Seeed, Delta, Sharp, Plat’Home, Via, Thundercomm, Branium, Wistron, Kyocera, and STMicroelectronics, Microsoft says.
“Previously, software had to be written specifically for the connected device it supported, limiting the scale of IoT deployments. IoT Plug and Play provides developers with a faster way to build IoT devices and will provide customers with a large ecosystem of partner-certified devices that can work with any IoT solution,” said Guthrie, adding that it reaffirms Microsoft’s $5 billion, four-year commitment to the internet of things market.
Last May, Microsoft open-sourced IoT Edge Runtime — the framework that enables custom and cloud logic to run on IoT Edge devices — and in June, the company broadly launched Azure IoT Edge, its cloud solution for internet of things devices. Complementary services went live alongside it, including device provisioning management (DPM), which allows administrators to set up connected devices in the field and provision them all at once, and automatic device management (ADM), which lets users deploy Azure IoT Edge modules — the containers that run Azure services or custom code — to devices over the air.
Microsoft also streamlined the developer experience in Azure IoT Edge, chiefly by expanding the number of programming languages supported in module software development kits (SDKs) and by introducing tooling for Visual Studio Code.
More recently, the company made publicly available Azure Stream Analytics (ASA), which simplifies the process of moving analytics between the cloud and edge devices with limited bandwidth and connectivity. And it rolled out updates to the Azure IoT Device Simulation Accelerator, making it easier to script complex device behavior and run simulations that emulate real-world environments.