Schneider Electric does IoT on Microsoft Azure

With Schneider Electric and its digital transformation, Microsoft is seeing tangible evidence that a focus on analytics, IoT, cloud, and open source is paying off.

You may not know Schneider Electric, but if you're an Internet of Things (IoT) watcher, you should. Schneider, based in France, is a multinational industrial technology firm providing services around energy and automation management.

The company is also undergoing a full-on digital transformation. And when an industrial company does that, with all of the heavy machine and sensor assets that it manages, you have to think IT.

Mr. Schneider goes to Washington
Schneider has been working closely with Microsoft and its Azure in this transformation effort. In fact, Schneider's work with Microsoft was featured prominently at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, held the week before last, in Toronto. Having done a small amount of work with Schneider myself before, I was aware of the companies prowess and wanted to understand better how the company was using Azure technologies.

As it happens, Schneider has an executive VP who is specifically in charge of Digital Transformation and IoT. His name is Cyril Perducat, and he spoke to me this week about how that transformation is fanning out, and the degree to which IoT is involved. I learned a lot.

One for all
Perducat told me Schneider has a huge portfolio of projects and that 100 percent of them are affected by the digital transformation effort. As just one example, Schneider has an solar energy offering called "EcoStruxure Solutions", that is global and is deployed in Nigeria, Japan, and other countries around the globe. EcoStruxure involves remote monitoring and analytics, which means it has "IoT" written all over it.

Although Schenider's businesses are varied -- organizationally and geographically in terms of the work itself -- Schneider is working with a variety of partners to build a digital platform/IoT stack that can be used across the entire company. Furthermore, Microsoft is the biggest of those partners, Perducat says.

Stacking up
In terms of IoT, Perducat says there are no fewer than 50 projects using different variations of IoT technology. Some involve devices; others involve complete systems. The projects tie back into other systems, including CRM and customer service platforms. All of them use the same IoT foundation stack, and most are based on Azure IoT and Cortana Intelligence.

Specific Azure components used include IoT Hub, Stream Analytics, HDInsight, and other components offered under the Cortana Intelligence Suite, including Power BI. Perducat explained to me the amount of IoT and analytics infrastructure offered by Microsoft lets Schneider focus on the application level instead of the underlying plumbing. Such a platform play is, of course, classic Microsoft. All this provides tangible vindication that the Azure strategy is working -- in a way that plays off Redmond's strengths and heritage.

Another thing that's classic Microsoft, though, is that its offerings tend to be delivered more as building blocks rather than "turnkey" solutions. I asked Perducat if that was a problem. His response was that Schneider prefers to stitch the components together into its defined architecture, and that if the Azure components were too integrated, it would be limiting.

Will the real IoT cloud please stand up?
Interestingly, a key offering of Schneider's is in the area of data center management. As such, not only is Microsoft a Schneider partner -- it's also a customer. So is as it turns out, Amazon Web Services. As a result, Schneider looked hard at both company's IoT services.

Perducat told me that Schneider feels Microsoft is well ahead of the competition, that its global presence of datacenters is very important to Schneider, and that Microsoft is very enterprise customer-friendly. Perducat added that Schneider also appreciates that Microsoft is more friendly to open source than it has been, historically. And that seems another nice vindication of Microsoft's more recent strategic direction.

How to get ahead in the higher-margin cloud
Perducat says that AWS is in catch-up mode (to Azure) with respect to IoT. He says Google and IBM are in catch-up mode as well, but they are even further behind than is AWS. So, while the industry is likely used to hearing that Azure's catching up to AWS, here we have a very significant case where the reverse seems to be true.

In this instance, analytics is clearly driving adoption of the Azure cloud -- and with services that go beyond commoditized, low-margin compute, and storage. Of course, to beat AWS, that's exactly where Microsoft needs things to go. With a few more Schneiders for Microsoft, the cloud horse race could change significantly.