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Microsoft and Cisco Partnership Signals Bid to Lead IoT Data Management

Can the two companies get along well enough to take them to the forefront of edge computing and IoT?

Tech giants Microsoft and Cisco have made it official.

For Further Reading:

Ubiquitous Smart Devices and the Coming Age of Edge Computing

Protect Your Network: Use Caution with IoT Data Sources

A Case for Managing Data Uniquely for Each Form of Advanced Analytics

The recent announcement should come as no real surprise. It’s obvious there is the potential for the two companies to step more firmly into the B2B space and create more products and services together than separately.

Can they get along well enough to make it happen?

Data Moves Closer to the Edge

It seems like it was only last year that tech gurus were opining about how quickly IoT would be here -- having shaken off some of the early security-oriented woes -- and, oh, the changes we’d see. Turns out they were right.

With IoT growing faster than a beanstalk and now superfast 5G networks popping up everywhere, minds deep in the R&D departments at Microsoft and Cisco must have been ruminating on the possibility that edge computing was going to be a pretty big thing -- and fast.

Unlike many rumored partnerships that never quite materialize, this one was already underway by the time recent simultaneous blog posts from each company made the announcement.

One of Microsoft’s leading IoT execs, Tony Shakib, acknowledged the reality that advancements in IoT and 5G have pushed computing ever-closer to the edge. Dealing with the massive amounts of data generated requires a network infrastructure built to handle ever-larger loads.

For the nontechnical person who only knows that the IoT includes home security cameras but has no idea how pervasive it has become, this list of connected devices might be an eye-opener.

Already Playing in the Sandbox

It’s not as if the companies haven’t already flexed their muscles enough to be major players in IoT. Cisco has been on a buying spree since it wrote a $1.4 billion check to buy out Jasper in 2016. Since then, it has been picking up supplemental businesses along the way. For its part, Microsoft said in 2018 it would be dumping $5 billion into IoT via their Azure computing service.

In other words, the twin titans have individually been making a bid for the market for a few years in hopes of finding synergy.

Although it might be too early to crown the new partnership as King of IoT (there are, after all, plenty of other players lining up to take a shot), it’s a safe bet to assume that the Microsoft/Cisco line of products and services will not linger in obscurity.

These two multibillion dollar companies have deep roots in computing that trace back to the very early days of the internet. When they decide to move in a particular direction, the rest of the tech world can’t help but pay attention.

Changing the Interwebs

Edge computing aficionados don’t hesitate to mention to anyone who’ll listen that the concept has a high probability of fundamentally changing how the internet is arranged.

Granted, it makes sense at some level to bring data computation closer to home, although we probably aren’t going to reject centralized data centers completely and return to the world of on-premises software. That mostly anachronistic idea was abandoned in the face of software-as-a-service (SaaS) innovations in tech and business models.

Bringing computing back closer to where work is actually done has several benefits. Computing would likely:

  • Become cheaper and more efficient
  • Become more secure and easier to obtain
  • Reduce network traffic to large data centers

One area of IoT where edge computing is especially appealing is related to sensors that take physical world measurements for things such as water flow and temperature. As currently constructed, these measurements might be sent halfway around the world to be calculated at a massive data center, only to make the trip back before it can be accessed as usable data.

What’s Happening Now?

The real question is whether this potential partnership is underway in concrete terms or exists primarily as pixels in a blog post. In other words, will it be years before anyone even notices a partnership was formed?

It appears that preliminary steps have already been taken. Real-world examples of words in action come in the form of companies such as Voestalpine AG, an Austrian steel producer that is currently taking a close look at developing their edge computing platform by combining Microsoft’s Azure IoT service with Cisco’s Edge Intelligence. Presently, developing such a system would require purchasing both products separately and then connecting them via a cloud storage service.

In the near future, if all goes according to plan, various software products from Microsoft and Cisco will be bundled and sold as a single product that will allow an enterprise to more quickly deploy an IoT solution. Although it’s likely the partnership won’t be fully developed immediately, you can already buy and deploy products resulting from the partnership today. Expect the assembly line to kick into high gear sooner rather than later.

Final Thoughts

Today, edge computing on a large scale exists more in terms of concepts than real-world applications. The internet as currently constructed won’t disappear any time soon.

The map is still being drawn to show us where edge computing will ultimately take us. Maybe nowhere. Maybe somewhere good. It’s also still up in the air as to which companies will eventually be the big dogs at the edge if and when it does advance from being the Next Big Thing to being an actual thing.

This much is predictable: the new Microsoft and Cisco won’t fail for lack of effort. Judging by the amount of money being directed towards the same goal, they’ll be sitting in the lead chair for the time being.

At least until someone knocks them off.

About the Author

Ludovic Rembert is a security analyst, network security engineer, and the founder of You can reach him via email or LinkedIn.

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