Microsoft is making an impressive play for business in Industrial Automation. They’ve tried this several times before. It will be interesting to see if they can leverage Azure, its cloud application platform, and all its impressive capabilities into business with manufacturing companies.
Microsoft organizes its approach to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) around Azure, a massive collection of capabilities which include Compute Services that provide virtual machines, traditional data management services (SQL), big data analysis, mobile services, backup site management, streaming analytics, and much more.
Though most of these services can be important to industrial applications, Microsoft is hoping that manufacturers will want to connect their machines to Azure for its analytics services: either the HDInsight big data services or the streaming analytics available in the Stream Analytics service. These services are designed to look at data and provide insight into reliability, product quality, maintainability, and other operational aspects.
ThyssenKrupp, one of the world’s leading elevator companies, developed an application that connects ThyssenKrupp’s elevators to Microsoft Azure. Thousands of their sensors and elevator systems that monitor everything from motor temperature to shaft alignment, cab speed, and door functioning are transmitted to Microsoft Azure. ThyssenKrupp now combines all that data into a single dashboard that serves up two basic types of data: alarms for immediate action, and event information which is analyzed later. ThyssenKrupp engineers have instant diagnostic capabilities, rich, real-time data visualization, and access to a wealth of historical data that they can use to improve the operation of products in the field and new products under development.
Microsoft provides several ways for factory floor devices to get data into Azure, but they all revolve around a virtual device called the IoT Hub (see Figure 1). The IoT Hub is a fully managed service that provides reliable device-to-cloud messaging for any size of application. It can scale from a few devices with few data transmissions to hundreds or thousands of devices with many transmissions.
Factory floor Ethernet-enabled devices that can support IoT Hub protocols (MQTT, AMQP, HTTPS) can send their data directly to the IoT Hub. Other Ethernet-enabled devices that don’t support those protocols might be able to use Microsoft’s protocol gateway which can connect various other protocols to the IoT Hub. Non Ethernet-enabled devices must use some sort of field gateway to move their data onto Ethernet to get connected to an IoT Hub.