Author(s): Raghu Gopal
There's a trip down memory lane with Microsoft's acquisition of Solair. It was almost 10 years ago when Microsoft, together with coffee specialist Melitta, introduced a connected drip coffee-maker. The Smart Mill and Brew machine had a small LCD screen for displaying information picked up via Microsoft's FM-based SPOT network. SPOT, short for Smart Personal Objects Technology, was essentially an early Internet of things initiative. It only lasted a few years, but all technology visions go through their own version of the Stone Age.
This week, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Solair, an Italian start-up which, among other things, enables the connectivity of coffee-makers. Solair offers Internet of things services in other industries as well, including manufacturing, retail and transportation. It already uses Microsoft's own Azure cloud computing platform for its services and Solair's technology can be expected to be folded into Microsoft's expanding Azure IoT Suite.
The purchase comes at a time when big technology companies strive to develop their own cloud services for connected devices. Amazon offers its Amazon Web Services, and Oracle and Salesforce have their own competing products. But the Internet of things has not been an area where Microsoft has made many acquisitions.
Solair's software can run as a cloud service or on a company's infrastructure. The company also offers a hardware gateway that companies can use on their premises to interface between their devices and the cloud. Solair's Internet of things customization and deployment solutions, built on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, are engineered to help businesses run more efficiently and profitably.
The most intriguing example is an implementation by Rancilio Group, which makes espresso machines. Solair's solution allows the Italian manufacturer to remotely monitor the machines for greater efficiency across the supply chain. Connected coffee-makers can have a real purpose.
In Japan, the Solair Smart Factory Advisor application has helped manufacturers increase production capacity and optimize energy efficiency. By enabling a factory's machines with Solair's Internet of things solution, the information and insights gathered are expected to lead to more efficient ways of manufacturing.
As the Internet of things gains ground with the expectation that the world is going to be blanketed by billions of connected devices, Internet of things start-ups are becoming highly sought-after by tech companies. This year we've already witnessed a spate of such acquisitions. Earlier in 2016, Cisco announced its acquisition of Jasper Technologies for $1.4 billion, whose platform allows enterprises to establish and manage cloud-based connections of Internet of things devices. And last month Intel acquired the Italian company Yogitech. Intel expects that this will enable it to expand further into industrial Internet of things, autonomous vehicles and robotics.
As competition among tech companies heats up for a piece of the cloud, Azure is a key part of Microsoft's strategy to move away from its traditional PC business. The company is now building up a diverse range of customers using its cloud offerings, with several announced at Hannover Messe last week, including Rolls Royce for aircraft engines, Jabil for industrial machinery and JTC for smart building management. Acquisitions like Solair are aimed at getting more companies to buy into the Azure service. It's a bet that just might be spot on.