Getting Started with the Internet of Things (IoT) in Azure

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Internet of Things, or IoT for short, is one of the fastest-growing emerging technologies in modern history. By 2020, we’ll have more than 200 billion connected devices according to the International Data Corporation (IDC)—and there’s no sign of it slowing down.

The IoT has revolutionized how different technologies and disciplines can be combined to solve complex problems—like image recognition and text processing—that, previously, only humans could solve. Now, the IoT has grown beyond industrial and manufacturing applications and benefits nearly all industries—especially health care, energy, automotive, security, supply chain and retail.

Let’s take a closer look at how different industries are using IoT technology, and how you can too with Microsoft Azure.


From Saving Lives to Saving Time: Real-World IoT Use Cases

In health care settings, for example, patients use implanted devices to transmit information remotely to doctors, who can then monitor vital statistics and device functions. These implants are essentially IoT-connected devices that transmit critical stats such as heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature on a scheduled basis, or when they exceed certain thresholds and trigger alerts. In case of emergency, these alerts may also indicate the patient’s exact location through the device’s GPS sensor. But implanted devices are not the only life-saving IoT application in health care: IoT-connected wearable devices, such as smart watches, can also track vital statistics. They can even save lives, like the Apple Watch that detected a teenager’s irregular heart rate in Tampa, Florida.

Another good industry example is the automotive sector, and in particular, data-rich autonomous vehicles. These vehicles are connected in real-time with GPS-tracking sensors, as well as a myriad of proximity, radar, lidar, sonar and other imaging sensors, which take in thousands of data points per second to adjust navigation and accelerate instantly.

Even still, few industries have been transformed by the IoT as drastically as the supply chain industry. At AgileThought, we have helped clients implement IoT devices that track and monitor critical shipments across the world to ensure they are transported in optimal conditions and arrive at their intended destinations. These devices are loaded with sensors that track temperature, humidity and vibration data, as well as GPS locations using the Azure IoT Platform. In these instances, the Azure IoT Hub allowed us to securely process millions of messages per minute and—in conjunction with other services like Azure Stream Analytics—allowed us to analyze critical metrics in near real-time.


What Are the Benefits of Azure for IoT?

Microsoft Azure cloud provides a scalable and extensible enterprise-ready platform for the Internet of Things (IoT). Any device and operating system can use it, which means millions of devices can benefit from real-time analysis of terabytes of sensor data. The Microsoft Azure cloud also allows you to containerize workloads using Azure Cognitive Service, Azure ML, Stream Analytics and Functions.

Currently, Microsoft provides a container engine based on the Moby open-source project. These containers allow workloads to be abstracted from the target environment—including hardware and operating system—in which they run, which simplifies deployment activities. And since Azure IoT Edge runs on most operating systems, including several Linux shells and processor architectures, it offers more deployment flexibility. For more details on supported software and processor architecture, please refer to the Azure IoT Edge supported systems article.

In addition to these cloud-based capabilities, Azure IoT enables organizations to run advanced workloads, like machine learning and AI algorithms, locally on Microsoft Edge devices. The ability to run these algorithms locally provides more opportunities to take immediate action close to the source of an event. For example, if an AI algorithm that uses computer vision to detect and forecast defect rates from a manufacturing line senses a problem, it may shut down a machine and dispatch a service technician to minimize waste and optimize quality outputs.


Azure IoT Hub

Azure IoT Hub is a managed service that connects all of your IoT devices and uses a streaming messaging pattern to transmit and receive information. To use it, each IoT device needs to be registered with the IoT Hub and represented as device twin. The device twin is a JSON document that stores device state information including metadata, configurations and conditions. The device twin document includes sections for tags, desired properties, reported properties and device identity properties. To learn more about device twins and how to use them, refer to Microsoft’s device twins getting started guide.

The information transmitted by an IoT device, also known as device-to-cloud (D2C) messaging, may include data produced by a sensor, such as scheduled temperature readings or heartbeats per minute. The Azure IoT Hub receives this information and then routes to one or more endpoints as described in the article Use IoT Hub message routing to send device-to-cloud messages to different endpoints.

By default, Azure IoT Hub has a default built-in-endpoint that is compatible with Azure Event Hubs. You can create custom endpoints to route messages by linking other supported services to the IoT Hub, including Azure Blob Storage, Azure Service Bus Queues, Service Bus Topics and additional Event Hubs. D2C messaging may also include the device twin’s reported properties and fill uploads, as described in Microsoft’s cloud-to-device communications guidance.

Cloud-to-device (C2D) communication is also possible through three options: direct methods, twin’s desired properties and cloud-to-device messages. These three options are also described in more detail in Microsoft’s cloud-to-device communications guidance mentioned above.


Azure IoT Hub Pricing Tiers

Azure IoT Hub has two pricing tiers: Basic and Standard. You can contact your Microsoft representative to understand which tier is best for your organization. In the meantime, you can get a price reference point by visiting the Azure IoT Hub pricing page.

The Basic tier offers one-way device-to-cloud communication and a subset of the features in the Standard tier. The Standard tier offers bi-directional communication between devices and cloud, and all the features available in Azure IoT Hub. For a comparison between Azure IoT Hub tiers, please refer to Microsoft’s article on choosing the right IoT Hub tier.

In addition to Azure IoT Hub, you can use the IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service (DPS) to automate secure and scalable device registration to IoT Hub. This is a must-have companion service for solutions that require the just-in-time (JIT) provisioning of numerous devices with zero or minimal human intervention. For more details, please refer to the Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service article.


Want to learn how to kickstart your own IoT solution? Contact us to learn how you can implement Azure IoT to generate new revenue streams and competitive advantages for your organization.


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