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Microsoft: 'Prepare for 15 billion more clients'

Embedded systems to flood IT

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

If you're an IT professional, Microsoft made an announcement last week that may increase both your capital expenditures budget and your job security.

At the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) in San José, California, Microsoft announced that the latest version of its OS for embedded systems, Windows Embedded Standard 7, had graduated to RTM status.

"Embedded systems?" you might say. "I manage servers, PCs, and laptops - I care not a whit for an OS that runs ATMs, fuel pumps, kiosks, in-car entertainment systems, and the like."

Microsoft thinks you should care. "For an IT professional, it's now becoming critical that you think through how to be able to manage, provision, monitor, and provide security to [embedded] devices just like you do today with a laptop or a PC," says Kevin Dallas, GM of Microsft's embedded unit. "That's the radical change that is starting to happen, and that's the future that we're building to."

Dallas' suggestion that you add embedded devices to your worry list is due to the fact that Windows Embedded Standard 7 is in essence a "componentized" version of Windows 7 that can provide all the internet connectivity of that operating system. And when your share of billions of internet-capable embedded devices start to communicate with your company's servers, you'll be the one who'll be told to manage them.

And, yes, we said billions. As the VP of Microsoft's OEM division Steve Guggenheimer noted in a recent blog post, the Artemis Embedded Computing Initiative estimates that there will be over 40 billion embedded devices by 2020. Intel's embedded chieftain Doug Davis has cited an IDC prediction that 15 billion embedded devices will be internet-connected by 2015.

"These devices will significantly outnumber the number of PCs, which will be in the hundreds of millions; will outnumber the number of TVs, which will be in the tens of millions; will outnumber the number of mobile phones that are shipped," Microsoft's Dallas told his audience at an ESC keynote.

Understandably, Dallas hopes that a sizable chunk of internet-enabled embedded devices will be built around Windows Embedded Standard 7. And Microsoft's offering has a few things going for it that may entice OEMs to use it in the specialized embedded systems that may one day be connected to your company's servers.

For one, as we mentioned above, it's "componentized" - meaning that Windows Embedded Standard 7 is essentially Windows 7 broken down into over 200 components that an OEM can assemble in any combination that works for their device. Among those components, of course, are internet-connectivity services.

As Dallas put it: "All the benefits of Windows 7 in the PC, laptop, netbook, and server arena can now be extended into the specialized devices space, into the embedded space."

The good news, from Dallas' point of view, is that since Windows Embedded Standard 7 is at heart Windows 7, all of the Microsoft back-end services that IT pros now use will be available to manage embedded devices.

"These devices need to connect seamlessly to back-end services. These services can range from management, to System Center, be able to participate in an Active Directory so you can set policies, you can push out software updates," he said.

He also cited some of Windows Embedded Standard 7's other virtues. "Agile VPN that really drives a more reliable VPN connection that can actually take advantage of multiple network paths. Also, you can build redundancy into your overall network with fail-over clustering - another feature that works in concert with Windows Server 2008 R2. We have the latest Remote Desktop client, RDP 7, also included in this, which supports one of the virtual-computing thin-client scenarios."

Irena Andonova, an exec in Microsoft's Embedded Windows and Enterprise Devices division, was even more direct about the new embedded OS's ability to work with existing management systems. "What is really, really important for us is for the enterprise customers to know that they can rely on the same infrastructure investment that they have made, therefore driving their TCO down by managing their devices in the same manner that they manage their PCs or servers, using the same technologies, plugging into the same existing infrastructure," she told us.

Andonova was ready with examples. "You want to bring in web services? You want to feed in data into SQL Server? Sure, we can do that. You want to read data from SQL Server? Sure, we can do that. Business intelligence where it makes sense? We'll take care of that."

The business intelligence information that embedded devices might provide to managers could include customer-specific data from point-of sale systems, machine-usage stats from production lines, real-time worldwide supply-chain analysis, and so on.

"These specialized devices are becoming mission-critical," Dallas explained. "Critical in terms of the tasks that they perform, but also critical in terms of the information that they can deliver back to that enterprise in terms of business intelligence. And...because you have that business intelligence, you can drive additional revenues."

And some of those additional revenues would reasonably be spent on the additional infrastructure needed to support some of those 15 billion internet-connected devices by 2015. Maybe some might be used to hire more IT staff.

"Raises?" you may ask. Sorry, but Windows Embedded Standard 7 can only do so much. ®

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