Microsoft Ignite 2018: Build and secure next-generation IoT and edge solutions at scale

With each passing year at our Microsoft Ignite conference, I am amazed at the new solutions our customers are creating using IoT. A decade ago, if a company wanted to connect assets they had to construct costly data centers and build all their functionality from scratch. Today, customers can provision Azure IoT Central applications in less than a minute in the region of their choice and go to production in a day. That’s quite a remarkable change.

Microsoft has been hard at work innovating for our customers and partners by providing a set of secure and scalable IoT offerings—and simplifying them so that any company on the planet can take advantage of their powerful capabilities.

We were honored recently when Forrester recognized Microsoft Azure as a “leader” in their report, The Forrester Wave™: Industrial IoT Software Platforms, Q3 2018. And we’re just getting started: we recently announced we’re investing $5 billion in IoT over the next four years to accelerate new capabilities for our customers and partners.

It has always been our goal to enable customers to create connected solutions, no matter where they may be in their IoT journey. Today at Ignite in Orlando, we are announcing several new solutions, updates, and capabilities, continuing our commitment to invest in this space and create intelligent solutions that simplify IoT, with security and enterprise-grade scale.

Simplifying our customer’s IoT journey

IoT is a complex, multi-disciplinary effort that spans cloud development, machine learning, AI, security, and privacy. Our goal is to enable customers to get started realizing the benefits of IoT no matter where they are starting in that journey. Toward that end, we are making several important announcements:

Azure IoT Central is now generally available

Last December we announced the public preview of Azure IoT Central, and today we’re making it generally available.

Azure IoT Central is a fully managed software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering that enables customers and partners to provision an IoT solution in seconds, customize it in a few hours, and go to production the same day—all without requiring any cloud solution development expertise.

Azure IoT Central is built on the hyperscale and enterprise-grade services provided by Azure IoT, so customers and partners can rest assured it will meet their security and scalability requirements today and tomorrow. We harness the key complexities of operating, managing, securing, and scaling an IoT solution so customers can bring their connected product vision to life faster.

In addition to harnessing the complexities of cloud development, we are also simplifying edge-to-cloud connectivity. As an example, we have collaborated with MultiTech, a leading provider of communications hardware for the Internet of Things, to integrate IoT Central functionality into the MultiConnect Conduit programmable gateway. This integration enables out-of-the-box connectivity from Modbus-connected equipment directly into IoT Central for unparalleled simplicity from proof of concept through wide-scale deployments.

Azure IoT Central has rich analytics capabilities that a typical knowledge worker can take advantage of to find insights in massive amounts of IoT data. With a host of new capabilities, IoT Central customers can now quickly build solutions by reusing existing device templates and connect devices securely at scale with zero-touch provisioning. With the new bulk device management capabilities, managing large numbers of devices and running jobs across sets of them—such as rebooting, resetting, or updating devices—becomes much easier.

To truly recognize the value of IoT, organizations need to take advantage of existing applications, integrate business workflows, and take more effective actions. Azure IoT Central does this with rich business process integrations that enable your data insights to seamlessly trigger downstream business processes.

The IoT Central connector for Microsoft Flow lets customers use hundreds of published connectors for no-code integrations. This enables powerful scenarios like Connected Field Service (CFS) that helps customers detect, troubleshoot, and resolve issues remotely and dispatch a technician only when necessary, improving resource productivity and customer satisfaction. Customers can even create Power BI dashboards over the data in their IoT Central applications.

Finally, Azure IoT Central has a simple per-device pricing model that offers more value as additional devices are deployed. It even has a free offering for a small number of devices, which customers and partners can use during development for as long as they need.

Introducing Azure Digital Twins: the next evolution in IoT

A “digital twin” is a virtual representation of physical environments (like an elevator, a factory floor, or an office building) that allows these assets to be optimized and managed more efficiently at scale.

Historically, digital twins have been synonymous with industrial equipment, but the concept is broadly applicable to physical spaces. This broader view represents a leading-edge innovation that will help customers and partners model and manage everything from smart buildings, to smart grids, to smart factories, to smart agriculture, to thousands of other businesses—all in a way that is more natural and efficient than traditional approaches.

It also represents the evolution of IoT. Most IoT projects today start from a device-centric approach, and in our ongoing quest to make building IoT solutions easier, we found that customers find it more natural to first model the physical environment and then connect (existing or new) devices to that model.

With all that in mind, today we are thrilled to announce Azure Digital Twins, a breakthrough service in our IoT platform that enables customers and partners to create a comprehensive digital model of any physical environment, including people, places, and things, as well as the relationships and processes that bind them. Once that digital model is in place, Azure Digital Twins uses Azure IoT Hub to connect the IoT devices and sensors that keep the digital model up to date with the physical world. This enables two additional powerful capabilities:

  • Users can respond to changes in the digital model in an event-driven and serverless way to implement business logic and workflows for the physical environment. For example, in a conference room when a presentation is started in PowerPoint, the environment could automatically dim the lights and lower the blinds. After the meeting, when everyone has left, the lights are turned off and the air conditioning is lowered.
  • Azure Digital Twins also integrates seamlessly with Azure data and analytics services, enabling users to track the past and predict the future of their digital model.

Azure Digital Twins is already being used by a broad set of customers and partners from a variety of industries. A few examples include:

  • CBRE is using Azure Digital Twins to power a mobile app for occupant experiences and facility management.
  • Agder Energi is using Azure Digital Twins for utilities and energy infrastructure, enabling them to operate their electrical grid more efficiently through utilization of distributed energy resources, device controls, and predictive forecasting.
  • Willow is using Azure Digital Twins to build software for designing, building, and operating commercial office buildings, industrial spaces, multifamily developments, airports, hotels, data centers, rail, and infrastructure.

Available for preview on October 15, Azure Digital Twins will provide many more capabilities as well. Get more details here.

Securing IoT from device to cloud

Today we’re also rolling out several improvements and new offerings designed to empower customers to easily build IoT solutions in a secured and scalable way:

Announcing the broad availability of Azure Sphere development kits

Every year, more than 9 billion microcontroller unit (MCU) devices are shipped worldwide. MCUs go into everything from smart devices in the home and workplace to industrial equipment. As device manufacturers connect their MCU-powered devices to the internet, they open up great opportunities for new device types, business models, and revenue streams. They also open up a whole new world of risks, where attacks and breaches can drive away consumers and permanently damage brands.

To help organizations seize connected device opportunities while meeting the challenge of IoT risks, we developed Azure Sphere, a solution for creating highly secure MCU devices. Azure Sphere sets the standard for IoT security by allowing manufacturers to build highly secure, internet-enabled MCU devices that stay protected even in an evolving threat landscape.

Azure Sphere’s unique mix of three components work in unison to reduce risk, no matter how the threats facing organizations change:

  • The Azure Sphere MCU includes built-in hardware-based security.
  • The purpose-built Azure Sphere OS adds a four-layer defense, in-depth software environment.
  • The Azure Sphere Security Service renews security to protect against new and emerging threats.

Today, we’re announcing that Azure Sphere development kits are universally available, and that the Azure Sphere OS, Azure Sphere Security Service, and Visual Studio development tools have entered public preview. Together, these tools provide everything needed to start prototyping new products and experiences with Azure Sphere.

New IoT capability for Azure Security Center

We’re also announcing an upcoming capability for Azure Security Center tailored for end-to-end IoT deployment. The new security service will provide security posture management, threat monitoring, and threat remediation for an entire IoT deployment: devices, the IoT Hub cloud gateway, cloud services, and IoT operators and admins.

This service will enable IT security administrators and enterprise cybersecurity experts to integrate IoT security into their current security practice with the same information security tools and concepts they use for other Azure products.

More choice and openness to create enterprise-grade IoT and edge solutions

In addition to simplifying and securing IoT, we are committed to meeting our customers where they are with the right tools and capabilities to deploy enterprise-grade solutions at scale. We are making a number of announcements that improve the developer experience with tools, expanded open-source support, and functionality to build solutions that scale, reliably:

  • Third-party IoT edge modules in the Azure Marketplace. As of today, partners can submit their own edge modules to Azure Marketplace for approval, certification, and showcase. We are already working with partners like Aveva, Alleantia, Redis Labs, and Codit to certify modules for IoT Edge. Once approved, customers and partners will be able to discover and deploy the edge modules in their own solutions, cutting development time and ensuring code quality with modules that have been reviewed by Microsoft. Plans are also in the works to allow partners who are showing edge modules on Azure Marketplace to monetize their solutions. To learn more, please go here.
  • Extended offline support. We are adding the capability for edge devices and edge gateways to operate disconnected from the internet for extended periods with the public preview of Azure IoT Edge extended offline. Learn more in this blog post.
  • Azure Blob Storage on IoT Edge. We are continuously adding services to IoT Edge. At Ignite, the Azure Blob Storage on IoT Edge module is available in public preview, allowing you to locally store and access data on an edge device. You can switch between storing data in public Azure and locally with a simple change in code, a particularly useful feature when you have a lot of data to process. You can read more about this capability here.
  • Tooling updates. We are also making tooling improvements for IoT Edge, including an extension for Visual Studio 2017, Jenkins Plugin, and extensions updates for Visual Code. Read more about tooling here.
  • Deploy IoT at scale with Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service updates. Today we are also announcing new capabilities for Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service to make it even easier for customers to register and provision devices in IoT applications. New functionalities include re-provisioning support to register and provision devices from one IoT solution to another, and enrollment-level allocation rules to give customers even more control.
  • New querying capabilities in Azure IoT Hub message routing. Azure IoT Hub message routing simplifies IoT solution development by enabling organizations to send messages from your devices to cloud services in an automated, scalable, and reliable manner. Today, we’re introducing new capabilities for message routing that will allow customers to query device-to-cloud messages.
  • Azure IoT platform support for Android and Android Things. We are announcing that Azure IoT Hub will support Android and the Android Things platform via the Java SDK to begin turning Android and Android Things devices into IoT devices. All features in the Java SDK will be available, including the Azure IoT Hub features we support and SDK-specific features such as retry policy for network reliability. This continues our commitment to enabling greater choice and flexibility in IoT deployments.
  • Improved Map Control API with many new features. Azure Maps is a collection of geospatial services to provide geographic context to any IoT solution. Today we’re announcing the Map Control module in Azure Maps, designed to enable customizable, intuitive, and insightful data layering and visualizations. As part of this, we’re introducing layers for different forms and entities, such as tiles, symbols, polygons, and lines. We’re supporting HTML-based icons on the map, and introducing functions to permit data-driven styling. We’re also launching a spatial math library, equipped with commonly used spatial math calculations for easy access for developers. All of these capabilities are designed to help developers further customize map data and visualizations.

Visit us at Ignite

If you’re in Orlando this week, sign up for my IoT session on Monday, September 24 at 4 p.m. EST where we’ll cover these announcements, along with our IoT vision and roadmap. You can also come by Booth #306 and see how your business can benefit from the ramp-up of our investments in the Azure IoT platform.


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Original article: Microsoft Ignite 2018: Build and secure next-generation IoT and edge solutions at scale
Author: Sam George