Microsoft pushes embedded to the cloud

Software giant outlines cloud strategy surrounding embedded systems in move expected to impact device makers, developers and users, says executive.

Microsoft has extended its cloud strategy to its embedded line of products.

Kevin Dallas, general manager of Windows Embedded business at Microsoft, said in a phone interview Monday the software giant will add the Windows Embedded Server product to its embedded platforms product line, as well as set up a central online platform for its partner ecosystem and developers of embedded systems.

Under Microsoft's cloud strategy, what it calls "software plus services", the company intends to extend Web capabilities to the different flavors of its Windows Embedded OSes--CE, Standard, NavReady 2009 and POSReady 2009--so that both users and device makers can tap the online community to make the devices "smarter".

Microsoft is also making available MSDN Embedded and Windows Embedded Developer update subscription services to developers on its Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition product.

Dallas said this move is targeted at developers, who currently have to look for the latest software updates themselves, but are not assured of the quality of code they find. Searching for drivers is also often a manual process of "looking for partners to integrate with", he said.

"Many times, we've found that it is just one poor driver that will impact an OEM's (original equipment manufacturer's) time to market," said Dallas. With the subscription service, Microsoft is offering an online repository of Microsoft-created and third-party drivers that have been tested and "confirmed [to be] of high quality". "It takes time to find a high-quality driver," he added.

On its Windows Embedded Server offering, he said: "There is a definite need for dedicated and specialized servers in the embedded space." Dallas listed medical systems and video surveillance systems as examples of setups where customers have the need for dedicated servers to process information and to pass data over secure networks.

Reiterating Microsoft's hybrid "software plus services" stance, he said such systems cannot be fully cloud-based. It would be impractical for the data to be pushed to the cloud, only to be pulled back for processing; localized systems are required for the job, with the cloud providing storage, he explained. "You have to be very thoughtful of what you're building in the device and what you're doing in the cloud."

On the user experience, he said the cloud will help tie up a "seamless" experience for users. "Today, it is up to the user to pull together and synchronize [the user's] data. It should be seamless. We're trying to figure out how to put the user in a position where they're getting access to their information, irrespective of their device," he noted.

Dallas added that the demand for connectivity is directing users' choices of devices, not features. Such connected devices have to "reach out, access and discover Web services", he said, adding that two-thirds of the 3 billion embedded devices forecast to be shipped this year will be "connected".

Visual Studio Professional 2008 with MSDN Embedded is scheduled to be available in July 2009, and the Windows Embedded Developer Update service is scheduled to launch in the first half of 2010.

Asia to lead embedded
Dallas expects Asia to "lead" in cloud-enabled embedded systems. "The majority of our innovation [comes from] Asia," he said. "They're more interested in where software is going, how to connected and how to have these devices interoperate."

This is expected to open new business opportunities for manufacturers, where they can have an ongoing relationship with users through the cloud, he added. This is in contrast to the current retail model where users have a support relationship with the retailer instead.

Microsoft said the Asia-Pacific region is its embedded division's fastest growing region at 22 percent, and accounted for 20 percent of its financial year 2008 revenue.

According to reports, Dallas in 2007 talked about Microsoft's "software plus services" direction in service-oriented devices, during a launch of Windows Embedded CE 6.0 R2.

Microsoft also outlined its cloud ambitions in opening up much of its Internet services to developers earlier in the same year.

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