Azure IoT Suite Focuses on Next Generation Industrial Applications

Microsoft strengthens its cloud offerings with new solutions for preconfigured remote monitoring, a new device provisioning service and technical guidelines on developing highly secure devices.

The next generation of the Microsoft Azure IoT Suite’s preconfigured remote monitoring solution introduces a new scalable Microservices architecture that dramatically simplifies the ability for customers to customize the solution. The company says that input from major companies including The Hershey Company, Schneider Electric, Rolls Royce and Sandvik played a key role. The new solution also utilizes a redesigned user interface that makes it easier for customers to visualize the system, along with support for both Java and .NET programming languages.

According to Microsoft, use of microservices emerged as the technical solution because it provides a way to achieve both scale and flexibility. Code is compartmentalized, and the solution is both easier to understand and less monolithic. An interactive demo of the remote monitoring solution is available here.

Microsoft Remote Monitoring Demo

Microsoft remote monitoring demo provides interactive tools for viewing an actual application. Image source: Microsoft

Innovations for IoT

At the recent Microsoft Ignite 2017 technical conference, the company also announced its new Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service. The goal is for customers to be able to configure “zero-touch device provisioning to their IoT hub” for large numbers of devices. Instead of requiring manual work for each device, the process is automated along with registering the device to the cloud and placing connection credentials on each of the devices.

Microsoft recommends using Hardware Security Modules (HSMs) to securely store security keys. HSMs provide maximum security for key storage, and an updated device SDK makes it easy to establish a root of trust between the device and the cloud.

Also at the Ignite conference, Microsoft introduced new capabilities for its Azure IoT Edge gateways. Gateways are playing an important and critical role in connecting devices, providing security isolation and adapting to existing machine protocols as a method for supporting legacy systems. Ongoing efforts are focused on machine learning, stream analytics and the development of cross-platform devices that require as little as 128 MB of memory.

Security Innovations

A new paper, “The Seven Properties of a Highly Secure Devices,” is a resource on how to achieve the highest level of security and especially for the “tens of billions of devices powered by microcontrollers.” The paper outlines both the seven properties requires in highly secure devices, and the results of an experiment that Microsoft conducted working with a silicon partner to revise one of their microcontrollers to create a prototype, highly secure microcontroller.

The seven properties of highly secure devices include:

  • Hardware-based Root of Trust
  • Small Trusted Computing Base
  • Defense in Depth
  •  
  • Certificate-based Authentication
  • Renewable Security
  • Failure Reporting

The paper concludes that, in the next decade, we will likely see explosive deployment of network-connected devices but many companies seem to fail to appreciate the need to give each of these devices the highest levels of security available.

According to the report, “Grounded in the understanding of these seven properties of highly secure devices, we have set out to explore if it would be possible to bring these properties to experimental, low- cost applications. Our first research milestone has been a step in that direction: building a test device that utilized a modified proof-of-concept microcontroller with these properties. Based on an initial, property-based evaluation, we believe that one could design systems that are highly secure using this design and appropriate software.”

The paper goes on to state that for the next phase of research evaluation, this approach is being packaged into a simple device board design with software.

With the Azure IoT Suite, in particular, and cloud computing, in general, accelerating to change the landscape of how information is being accessed, stored and analyzed, it’s not difficult to envision its impact on industrial automation. A wealth of data is stored in controllers throughout the manufacturing process which, in theory, could provide all types of valuable information. But the need for highest levels of security and low cost methods for deploying these systems are obviously critical to how quickly and effectively these solutions can emerge.

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