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What is the Best Azure IoT Service for You?

  • Difficulty Level : Medium
  • Last Updated : 19 Oct, 2021

Internet of Things is a raging technology. The term ‘internet of things ‘ describes a network of connected devices that sends data to and receives instructions from a centralized computer system by using the internet as a communication channel. A very simple illustration for IoT could be smart lighting. The bulbs can be controlled via a cloud-based web or mobile application. They respond to commands directed to them via the internet. Moreover, sensors embedded in these bulbs render them the perfect pipeline to collect additional information about the room like air quality, permeation, temperature, and so on. This data can be analyzed to derive valuable insights.

1. Microsoft Azure in IoT:

Azure IoT services are a complete benefit suite enabling sensory devices to relay the data collected by them to a secure endpoint for generating data-based alerts and reports. Azure automates the workflow by introducing user-friendly dashboards and secure authentication systems that enhance the user experience. 

Let us suppose that you buy a new smart refrigerator powered by Azure. The sensors embedded in your refrigerator gather details about the device such as the preferred temperature setting, the average time for which the door is left open, any regular errors incurred by the inventory, etc., and transmit this data to a secure storage endpoint on the Azure cloud. Azure now deploys resilient AI functionalities like Azure’s Cognitive Services on the collated data to predict when your device requires maintenance, when do the inventory needs replacement, and so on. Azure shall also present these insights to you on an attractive and well-structured dashboard with suitable analytics and visualizations.

The flow of Data in Azure IoT

5In this article, we shall delve deeper into the 3 IoT services offered by Azure. We shall also discuss when to use which IoT service and consider certain case examples. This can be the best IoT resource for clearing Microsoft’s AZ-900 certification. 

2. Azure IoT Hub:

Azure’s IoT Hub is a cloud service that is the head router for bi-directional data flow from the IoT device to the application managing it. Azure’s IoT Hub service supports communications both from the device to the cloud and from the cloud to the device. After the IoT hub receives messages from a device, it can relay those messages to other Azure services, like Cognitive Services for AI analysis. IoT Hub permits command and control; which means users have complete control over the connected devices. 

The basic working of IoT Hub

While IoT Hubs offer extended control and regularization; they are not the best fit for situations where security is paramount. Isn’t security something that is inherently necessary? If so, then why should I opt for a service that has a minimum security guarantee?

The answer to the aforementioned questions can be given by a comparative analysis of the security solutions. While security is a prime concern in every service, it is more desirable in services securing confidential data than in services securing on-the-record, unclassified data. For example, you need to equip a service securing credit card data better than a service securing washing machine rinse-cycle data. The security offered by Azure IoT Hub is substantial for cases involving device-to-cloud telemetry, request-reply methods, functionality/application integration, and file uploads. Note that IoT Hub is the cheapest subscription offered by Azure IoT. It comes in basic and standard version models for better control over message delivery. For enhanced security and dashboard customization, other Azure IoT services are recommended. 

3. Azure IoT Central:

Azure IoT Central is an abstraction over the IoT Hub. It can be considered to be an improvement over IoT Hub as it has a fully functional dashboard that enables the users to visually exercise flexible managerial control over the IoT devices. It has a lucid and interactive user interface for monitoring the device’s specifics. Users can monitor individual or collective performances and can trigger alerting workflows in case the network incurs an error. Once the alerts have been passed, the firmware can be updated. 

The most utilitarian feature provided by IoT Central is the customizable device template for a broad range of scenarios from retail to healthcare. The device template is used to create the dashboards and alerts. But its most important feature is the capacity to connect or add new devices without server-side coding. You can filter the conditionals as per your choice and display analyses and reports on the dashboard by using device templates. 

A very suitable example of IoT Central deployment could be fleet vehicles shipping perishable goods. The shipment coordinators could use IoT Central’s Connected Logistics device template for a robustly configured monitoring and management system that would enable them to keep tabs on commodity temperatures, pressure dips, real-time locations etc. inside individual vehicles. IoT Central is the most user-supportive service provided by Azure IoT. However, it is still not enough for top-notched security(note that the worse that could happen in this case would be hackers finding out the best suitable temperature for tomatoes). Due to a more complexity-minimizing architecture, IoT Central costs more than IoT Hub.

Azure IoT device templates

4. Azure Sphere:

Azure Sphere is Azure IoT’s high-end service suite that offers optimum data confidentiality and security. Azure Sphere’s end-to-end solutions are an umbrella for the hardware, the operating system, and the alerting algorithms. Azure Sphere has integrated communication and security facilities for the network devices.  There are 3 components of Azure Sphere.

  1. Hardware-The hardware unit or the starter kit of Azure Sphere is a microcontroller (MPU) that processes the incoming sensor signals and the operating system.  The Seeed Azure Sphere MT3620 development kit microcontroller is a popular example.
  2. Operating System-Azure Sphere leverages a customized Linux operating system (OS) that handles communication with the security features and executes the 3rd-party software suite.
  3. Azure Sphere Security Service (AS3) – This ensures certificate-verified and authenticated access only to the device’s configuration. It takes immense steps to fortify compromisable data. If the authentication is successful, AS3 checks to verify device credibility. After it has established a secure communication pipeline, AS3 pushes approved customer-developed software updates to the device.

Azure Sphere is a costly service that shouldn’t be deployed unless a state-of-the-art, confidential device network requires it. A good example of this could be a touchless self-checkout solution for COVID-19. Since transaction details are confidential and liable to compromise, Azure Sphere is the best possible option. 


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