Review: Microsoft Azure IoT Suite

Azure IoT Suite can relieve the nightmare of creating infrastructure to support IoT sensors

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The Internet of Things – a vast network of connected microdevices, sensors, and small computers generating vast amounts of data – is all around us. In fact, it's hard to find an industry that remains untouched by IoT.

In healthcare, for example, continuous glucose monitors and insulin pumps communicate to precisely adjust the level of insulin delivered to a diabetic patient. Wind power companies can use sensors embedded in turbines and spindles, in conjunction with wind forecast data from weather providers, to predict low utilization periods where preventative maintenance can occur. Retailing giant Target leveraged beacon technology to serve up hyperlocal content to its customers, offering deals via its mobile app to move more product off shelves. IoT is pervasive, and it will only continue to grow in momentum and importance.

+Also on Network World: What is IoT?+

But just because all of these sensors and resulting data exist doesn’t mean companies have the expertise or systems in house to deal with it. Often, it's individual business units and departments that are trying to get IoT projects off the ground using cloud-based offerings. It seems simple enough: Hire a data scientist contractor, outfit your infrastructure with some sensors, start up a cloud-service account, and before long you could have several terabytes of sensor data and be ready to get fired up.

Microsoft has been innovating in this particular area with its Azure service, and they have some compelling offerings. These compete with Google’s Cloud IoT suite and Amazon’s various IoT tools, although Microsoft’s starter kit is far more polished than others.

Platform as a service

The Azure IoT Suite is designed to be a quick-start type of portal—a true example of a platform as a service (PaaS) that gives you the resources necessary to deal with all of the data being sent back to you, while also allowing you to understand it, manipulate it and use it to either improve your business processes or solve some nagging problem.

NOTE: There is also a newer software as a service (SaaS) offering called Microsoft IoT Central, geared toward the software that powers the sensors and connects everything together. This offering is mainly aimed at manufacturers, who can use IoT Central to build their own SaaS-based IoT solutions hosted on the Azure IoT cloud service and get their solutions to market more quickly without having to reinvent the plumbing, the platform and more.

There’s also the very new (as in Spring 2017) Azure IoT Edge suite, a complementary offering that lets in-house or contract programmers develop logic for the small computers and sensors on the “edge” of an IoT environment in convenient, more accessible (and commonly known) languages like Java and C#, rather than Assembly and other more obscure languages. In this story, however, we will focus on the Azure IoT Suite because it more clearly highlights the capabilities of the overall platform.

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Now read: Getting grounded in IoT