Simplifying IoT, one Azure service at a time!
The Internet of Things (IoT) isn't a technology revolution, it is a business revolution enabled by technology. By 2020, there will be 26 Billion connected 'things' and IoT will be good for a 12$ Trillion market share. These connected 'things' will range from more consumer-driven IoT ranging from wearables and home automation to intelligent industrial scenarios like smart buildings and intelligent machine infrastructures.
In this blog post, I will go deeper into detail on why IoT is more than just collecting some data from devices and explain you why it's important to engage business into your IoT Solution next to your perfectly built architecture. I will talk about some of the more complex things you need to think about when building and designing your solution. Some of them might be scary or sound very complex to tackle, but remember that some of these solutions are just one Azure service away...
A simple view on IoT
When creating a simplified overview of an IoT project or solution, it can be drilled down to the following 4 key components.
An IoT project always comes down to securely connecting your devices to the cloud and start flowing your local data streams into the cloud. Once your device data is stored in the cloud you can start creating insights on it. Based on that, you can leverage the business intelligence towards business and allow them to act upon actions or events raised on that data and trigger additional workflows.
IoT projects can be complex!
However, when taking a closer look on IoT Projects there is more to say than the above 4 key components, especially when moving from a POC setup to a full-blown production ready solution with potentially thousands of devices in the field. As IoT is a business-driven revolution, the most important action there is that you need business to be involved from the very start, as they are the key-drivers from your IoT project. The risk of not involving the business into IoT projects is that you potentially get stuck in POC limbo and your IoT solutions will never see the break of day. Once you get business on board, things are getting easier... or not. Some of the most important technical questions or decisions are listed below, all of them are just a small part of your entire solution.
How to connect things that are hard to connect?
Getting your IP enabled devices connected to the cloud is one thing, but how will you connect your existing devices, that don't speak IP, to the cloud. What if your devices are not capable of change or the risk of changing them is too high? Or what if your devices aren't even allowed to talk to the cloud, due to security reasons. When this is the case you might need to look at other possibilities to connect your devices with the cloud, like for example introducing a gateway that will be responsible for acting as a 'bridge' between your devices and cloud platform.
Once your devices are connected, there's still some open questions or challenges you need to tackle before processing your data. How will you securely identify and enroll your devices onto your IoT Platform. How will you scale that enrollment for many devices? Next to enrollment there is also a question of configuration and managing your devices. When looking at Device Management and Lifecycles there are a couple of management patterns like updates, reboots, configuration updates or even software updates.
Another key component within an IoT solution is data. Data is key on getting the insights the business is looking for. Without a proper data storage/visualization strategy you're in for some trouble, think fast IO and high scale. When it comes to storing your data, there is no silver bullet. It really depends on the use-case and what the ultimate goal is. Key action there is to pick the storage based on the actions you will perform with your stored data. There is storage that is a perfect input for your analytics tiers but mighy not be a good option when it's just about archiving the data for later use.
As already mentioned during this blog, data is key inside your IoT solution. The real value of your IoT project is making sense of your data and getting insights from that data. Once you captured that insight, it is key to connect these insights back to the business and evolve your business by learning from those insights.
When doing IoT projects you're not always in the position of having full-blown connected sites or factories. There might be a limit on communication bandwidth or even limited internet connectivity. What if you would like your devices to only send aggregated data of the last minute to the cloud? What if you would like to keep all your data close to your device and only send fault data to the cloud. If this is the case, you need introduce Edge Computing into your IoT Solution, Edge Computing allows you to perform buffering, analytics, machine learning and even executing custom code on your device without the need of a proper internet connection.
Let's not go into detail on this one. Start implementing it from day zero as this is the most important part of your IoT Solution. Your end to end value chain must be secured. Never cut budget on your security strategy and implementation when doing IoT Projects.
Congratulations, you've survived the scary part... Thanks to the Azure cloud some of the above challenges are just a couple of button clicks away. The goals of Azure and Microsoft is making it easier to build, secure and provision scalable solutions from device to cloud. The list of recent IoT innovations on the Azure platform is endless, with major focus on some of the key challenges every IoT project phases: Security, Device Management, Insights and Edge Computing.
The future is bright, time to do some IoT!!