November 2018

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Microsoft’s Azure Digital Twins Platform

Could Disrupt Cloud Computing for the Building IoT

James McHale

James McHale,

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Back in spring this year, Microsoft announced that they intended to invest $5 billion in the Internet of Things (IoT) services over the next four years with the goal of “simplifying the journey in IoT.” They made it clear that they wanted any customer, no matter where they’re starting from, to be able to create trusted, connected solutions for their own digital transformation. This week they took a step towards that goal with the announcement of their Azure Digital Twins platform.

“Most IoT projects today start from a things-centric approach, but we’ve flipped that around. We’ve found that customers realize huge benefits by first modeling the physical environment and then connecting (existing or new) devices to that model. Customers gain new spatial intelligence capabilities and new insights into how spaces and infrastructure are really used,” the company said at their Ignite Conference in Orlando.

“Azure Digital Twins is a new platform for comprehensive digital models and spatially aware solutions that can be applied to any physical environment. Partners and customers can now query data in the context of a space — rather than from disparate sensors — empowering them to build repeatable, scalable experiences that correlate data from digital sources and the physical world,” the announcement continued.

The “digital twin” concept itself is not new. In fact, digital twins have long been used to model industrial equipment, such as engines, but only relatively recently have we begun to use the digital twin concept to model our physical environment.

In buildings, physical structures intersect with complex systems, which in turn interact with one another. Smart buildings have brought another layer to these facilities, a plethora of sensors and intelligent solutions that support the unique objectives of each building. All of this interacts with the dynamic element of people who occupy and visit the facility. Modeling such a complex environment is a challenge but unlocks a wide range of potential benefits for our buildings.

The digital twin is not new to Azure either. In fact, many companies have been building their own versions of digital twins on the Azure cloud service for years. Those third party versions consistently struggled to scale, however, which is what makes this announcement so exciting. The Internet of Things has opened up a huge market for cloud services, but Microsoft faces stiff competition from the likes of Oracle and Amazon. By offering an off-the-shelf digital twin capability like this, Microsoft may have found a “killer app” that will draw a significant portion of the market to standardize their entire Building IoT workloads on Azure.

“Azure Digital Twins has been developed as part of the Azure IoT platform to provide all of the scale, reliability, compliance, security, and privacy benefits Microsoft Azure is known for. It means environments of all types — offices, schools, hospitals, banks, stadiums, warehouses, factories, parking lots, streets, intersections, parks, plazas, and more — can become smarter spaces, and so can the supporting infrastructure and even entire cities,” explained Bert Van Hoof, Partner Group Program Manager at Azure IoT.

Azure Digital Twins 

Azure Digital Twins will be publicly available for customers to begin building solutions on October 15th. Ahead of the release, Microsoft released a summary of the platform’s capabilities:

If the Azure Digital Twins platform lives up to its potential, it could be very disruptive for this large and rapidly growing market. The announcement also demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to the IoT in buildings and cities, a direct and quick result of its $5 billion investment pledge.

By reducing complexity and enabling the creation of innovative spatial intelligence solutions, Azure Digital Twins may provide organizations with the foundation they need to create the next wave of innovation in IoT. And with that, they accelerate our journey to an intelligent and connected world that empowers people and organizations to achieve more with their digital transformations.


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