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Getting IoT projects off the ground with Microsoft

Getting started with new IoT projects can be complicated. Learn how Microsoft's IoT Suite can simplify the processes.

There are few hotter or more misunderstood IT buzzwords than internet of things. The term is more likely to cause...

confusion for most IT professionals than it is to describe a viable business software solution. So what is IoT? It is essentially about harnessing data that you couldn't use before and using that data to make business decisions.

At its core, the internet of things is all about collecting data, analyzing data and then presenting the results of that data analysis. IoT is unfamiliar because it's a relativity new technology and business capability. The technological advancements that have made IoT possible are the rapid decrease in the costs of hardware and storage and, at the same time, the substantial increase in connectivity, reach and reliability of the internet. In addition, the emergence of mobile and smart devices that are capable of generating, collecting and transmitting data have become common, which has enabled new forms of data collection and analysis that weren't possible just a few years ago. If this sounds a lot like big data, it's because that's exactly what many IoT projects produce.

So what kind of business solutions is IoT good for? IoT projects can be used for a variety of solutions, including predictive maintenance, more accurate sales forecasting and improved operational efficiencies. These solutions revolve around capturing lots of data that is generated by various devices and then analyzing that data.

Taking advantage of IoT is new territory for most organizations, and getting new IoT projects off the ground can be a big undertaking because of all of the new technologies that are involved. At a high level, there's device data capture, possibly from a variety of different devices; there's setting up a workflow to process the data; the need to provide analysis and summary of the data; and, finally, presentation of the summary of the analyses to the businesses' decision makers for actionable items.

Microsoft's Azure IoT Suite is a software as a service (SaaS) offering that's designed to help you get a jump start your IoT projects. First announced Sept. 29, 2015, the suite provides an application development platform and framework along with a set of preconfigured customizable IoT solutions that can help you implement new IoT projects. The Azure IoT Suite also comes with two preconfigured solutions for remote monitoring and predictive maintenance.

Azure IoT components

Since the IoT Suite is a SaaS offering, there are no upfront costs for implementing the solution. You pay as you go, and there's no server software that you need to install. However, you do need to install agents on the different devices that you want to collect data from. (You can see an overview of the IoT Suite used in the preconfigured Remote Monitoring solution in figure one.)

Remote Monitoring Hub
Figure one -- Azure IoT Hub in a Remote Monitoring solution.

Devices generate and transmit operational data like telemetry, temperature readings or other environmental data.

They use Microsoft or partner supplied agents to collect data from the device. Microsoft provides a number of different prebuilt device connectors and has a partner program associated with its Azure IoT Suite. Some of the notable partners in the IoT program include Intel, Texas Instruments, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell. In addition, Microsoft provides an IoT SDK (software developer's kit) that enables businesses and IoT partners to develop their own devices.

The Azure IoT Hub connects devices to your Azure IoT solution. Devices can connect to the IoT Hub over the internet using TCP/IP. It supports a number of different open protocols including MQTT, HTTPS and AMQPS. Devices send their output to the IoT Hub as messages, which then pass the information on to the IoT solution. (This is illustrated in figure one.)

In the Remote Monitoring solution shown, you can see how the IoT sends the incoming device information into the Stream Analytics function and then into the prebuilt Remote Monitoring solution. Power BI can then present the analysis results in a dashboard, or you can pass them to other back-end solutions like your customer relationship management or ERP applications.

Implementing IoT with the Azure IoT Suite

While there's a lot of new technology required to implement IoT, it doesn't need to be an insurmountable hurdle. Microsoft offers a free 30-day trial that can be used to get started with your own IoT solutions. Because it's a SaaS solution, you don't need to buy any new hardware or software to get started. However, you do need an Azure subscription. You can find a free trial of Azure IoT on the Microsoft website.

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