At Build 2020, Microsoft announced the new capability of Azure IoT Central which makes it easy to connect edge computing devices running Azure IoT Edge software. Azure Sphere, a secure microcontroller from Microsoft is now tightly integrated with Azure IoT Central.
Azure IoT Central – A turnkey IoT solution
Launched a couple of years ago, Azure IoT Central is one of the first multi-tenant IoT SaaS platforms covering end-to-end scenarios for device management, telemetry ingestion, command control, rule-based alerts, and rich visualization.
IoT Central has all the ingredients of a best-in-class IoT platform. Customers can quickly onboard devices, ingest telemetry, perform remote maintenance, build KPI dashboards, and even integrate with third-party solutions. IoT Central can be easily customized to meet the needs of enterprises. Solution providers and systems integrators can also white-label IoT Central to expose a multi-tenant connected devices platform to their customers.
IoT Central comes with scenario-based templates for customers and system integrators to quickly build solutions targeting markets such as retail, energy, government and healthcare.
For example, the retail industry templates include connected logistics and smart inventory management. For the government and public sector, IoT Central has smart city use cases such as connected waste management, water consumption monitoring and water quality monitoring.
The templates act as a starting point for rapidly building connected solutions running in the cloud. Each template can be customized further to meet specific business needs and requirements.
Azure IoT Edge – An extension of Azure IoT Hub at the Edge
Microsoft’s Azure IoT Edge is a software that extends the public cloud capabilities to the edge computing layer. The platform mimics a local version of Azure IoT Hub, a service that tackles device management and device communication in the cloud.
Apart from IoT Hub, Azure IoT Edge can run edge-optimized services such as Azure Functions, Azure Stream Analytics and Azure SQL Edge as modules. The platform runs these services as modules which are container images built for X86 or ARM architecture. Customers can build custom modules that can run business logic at the edge. All the modules are registered and managed through the Azure IoT Hub interface.
Azure IoT Edge can run machine learning models as modules that can perform inference in real-time on the data ingested by the sensors.
Azure IoT Edge is a mature platform that can function as a protocol gateway, transparent gateway, and fully-fledged edge layer with offline functionality.
As a protocol gateway, Azure IoT Edge can translate traditional protocols such as Modbus, CAN bus and OPC-UA to modern communication protocols such as AMQP, MQTT and HTTP.
A transparent gateway acts as a conduit between the local devices and the Azure IoT Hub multiplexing the communication through a single connection to the cloud.
Azure IoT Edge can be deployed in scenarios where connectivity to the cloud is intermittent. For example, multiple sensors and actuators can be connected to an Azure IoT Edge instance deployed in trucks used in mining environments. IoT Edge synchronizes data with IoT Hub as soon as it regains connectivity to the cloud.
IoT Central can now onboard edge devices that manage sensors and actuators deployed at the edge. Customers can gain access to the leaf devices connected to IoT Edge and control them via the IoT Central user interface.
It is possible to connect cameras and sensors to IoT Central via Azure IoT Edge to access the feed and telemetry data through the dashboards. Combined with the AI inference capabilities of Azure IoT Edge, IoT Central can send alerts when a specific object is detected in the inbound camera feed.
First-class support for Azure Sphere in IoT Central
In 2018, Microsoft launched a microcontroller (MCU) meant to run at the edge computing layer. With the hardware-based root of trust combined with a custom Linux kernel, it is designed to be secure from the ground up.
Azure Sphere represents a new class of secure, connected, crossover MCU that integrates real-time processing capabilities with the ability to run a high-level operating system. It enables original device manufacturers (ODM) to gain instant and secure connectivity to the cloud. By embedding the MCU in a connected device, either alongside or in place of existing MCU(s), device manufacturers gain enhanced security, productivity, and opportunity to participate in the IoT revolution.
According to Microsoft, IoT Central’s tight integration with Azure Sphere enables device builders to model Azure Sphere devices with device templates and easily reuse them in different applications. With future integrations, Operators will be able to enjoy simplified security management from a single pane of glass with optimized device management experiences.
At Build 2020, Microsoft launched a new device template and a sample application for Azure Sphere to connect and control the device from IoT Central. This enables customers to quickly build solutions based on Azure Sphere.
With support for edge devices and Azure Sphere, IoT Central can now address new scenarios making it the most versatile SaaS-based IoT solution.