Microsoft Confirms Azure IoT Central Commitment

Feb. 27, 2024
A message posted in error by Microsoft about the retirement of Azure IoT Central caused concern about the effects on technology applications connected to the service.

In mid-February 2024, Microsoft announced that it would be retiring its Azure IoT Central platform. The notice from Microsoft was covered by a number tech media sources, such as The Register, which reported: “Out of the blue Microsoft has decided to retire a key plank of its Azure IoT platform, leaving developers currently building systems high and dry. In a statement on the Azure console, Microsoft confirmed the Azure IoT Central service is being retired on March 31, 2027.”

Microsoft describes Azure IoT Central as an IoT application platform as a service (aPaaS) designed to reduce work and costs while building, managing and maintaining IoT solutions.

The Register noted that the Microsoft announcement stated: “Starting on April 1, 2024, you won’t be able to create new application resources; however, all existing IoT Central applications will continue to function and be managed.”

While rare, such an announcement does have precedence. As The Register noted: “IBM made a similar move to end its Watson IoT service at short notice in November 2022. It said it would "sunset the Watson IoT Platform service on IBM Cloud effective December 1st, 2023, without a direct replacement."

Needless to say, such as decision by Microsoft could significantly impact the manufacturing technology industry where Microsoft’s Azure and its Azure IoT platform are widely used.

Then, just a day after the announcement, Microsoft retracted the news about Azure IoT Central in a statement from Kam VedBrat on Microsoft’s Internet of Things Blog. According to VedBrat: “There was a recent erroneous system message on Feb 14th regarding the deprecation of Azure IoT Central. The error message stated that Azure IoT Central will be deprecated on March 31st, 2027, and starting April 1, 2024, you won’t be able to create new application resources. This message is not accurate and was presented in error.  Microsoft does not communicate product retirements using system messages. When we do announce Azure product retirements, we follow our standard Azure service notification process including a notification period of 3-years before discontinuing support. We understand the importance of product retirement information for our customers' planning and operations. Learn more about this process here: 3-Year Notification Subset - Microsoft Lifecycle | Microsoft Learn.”

No word yet on what led to the posting of this “erroneous system message”, but before the clarification from Microsoft, Automation World had reached out to several automation technology suppliers to learn how the retirement of Azure IoT Central could affect their products and services. Surprisingly, some companies were not prepared to provide a response and did not offer any insights about Microsoft’s continued support for the Azure IoT Central. However, two companies did respond to explain how such an action by Microsoft would not impact their products.

Brandon Stiffler, software product manager at Beckhoff USA, said, “If Azure ever discontinues the IoT Central product, they, along with all the other cloud providers, will continue to offer platforms and services that leverage standardized IoT protocols, such as MQTT, HTTP and OPC UA. Beckhoff has taken the approach of supporting and exposing the underlying technologies, rather than tightly coupling to any specific product or provider. This affords us the highest level of flexibility and compatibility with rapidly evolving cloud offerings.”

Kent Melville, director of sales engineering at Inductive Automation, said “Ignition Cloud Edition is not impacted by this change and continues to be a great option for people looking for industrial solutions to run in the cloud. Ignition Cloud Edition also contains an MQTT broker out of the box so, if anything, it will be more relevant than ever. Data flowing to the cloud continues to be a trend in the industry and we don’t see that going away any time soon. For data to be productive in the cloud it needs to easily flow between different applications. This was solved on the plant floor through the adoption of open standards. In the cloud we are now seeing a consolidation of tools to adopt these standards and make the cloud feel more like home for the industrial space. We look forward to continuing to offer products that leverage these open standards like OPC, MQTT (with SparkPlug), SQL and APIs.”

The upside to any concerns that such a decision from a major provider could negatively impact operations for manufacturing users is that it appears automation technology suppliers are focusing their connectivity to such platforms on the underlying communication technologies, such as MQTT and OPC UA. As both Stiffler and Melville noted, this approach provides automation tech suppliers with the flexibility and application independence to adjust to any such notice and provide continued access to the capabilities they provide regardless of moves by the cloud service providers.

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