Updates to Azure Time Series Insights simplify analysis of IoT data

The unprecedented volume of data generated by the Internet of Things (IoT) has made analysis of time-series data a powerful way to gain actionable insights into business performance. This type of analytics can help companies uncover hidden trends, conduct root-cause analyses, and quickly validate IoT solutions.

Yet collecting, managing, visualizing, and analyzing time-series data at scale and in near-real time is a tall order for even the most capable of companies. That’s because sensors and connected devices can generate billions of data points every day, and businesses lack a centralized view of data and the ability to perform a unified query. Combining and visualizing disparate data types—in particular, time-series data and reference data—is daunting because organizations typically use multiple, non-integrated tools and techniques.

Microsoft is addressing these challenges in a new update to the public preview of Azure Time Series Insights, a managed cloud service that provides a global view of IoT-scale data with real-time visibility into time-series data across all locations. Updates to Time Series Insights include:

  • Streamlined management of time-series data in the Azure Portal.
  • Documentation on reference data API that makes it easier to combine time-series data with more static reference and historical data—and build custom solutions.
  • A dynamic search span that allows businesses to customize and run repeatable queries using a single template, as well as use relative time spans in queries.
  • A new feature that surfaces statistically significant patterns and enables users to quickly perform root-cause analyses and post-mortem investigations.
  • Several new usability improvements to time navigation that help streamline triage and diagnosis.
  • A time brush tool that makes it easier to move between time ranges when diagnosing sensor data.
  • Updates to the JSON data interchange format that add the ability to import multi-content JSON payloads.
A GIF showing patterns in the Time Series Insights stats tab and addition of a pattern as a new term.

A GIF showing patterns in the Time Series Insights stats tab and addition of a pattern as a new term.

One company that’s benefiting from Microsoft’s IoT solutions is EcoLab, a leading provider of water and energy services that is creating a system to help its industrial customers reduce water use. Leveraging the Azure IoT Suite, EcoLab has combined approximately 10TB of time-series data like water use with sales and other data to help visualize and identify patterns. Azure has helped the company address an inherent IoT challenge: The ability to combine and analyze time-series data from operations processes around the world.

Microsoft will continue to update and add functionality to Time Series Insights while in public preview. To find out more about how we are building the leading platform for analyzing time-series data, read our blog post announcing new Time Series Insights capabilities. You can also register for our upcoming webinar, “Quickly unlock insights hidden in your time series data,” on September 19, 2017 from 10:00-11:00 a.m. PDT .

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Internet of Things

A framework for evaluating your IoT infrastructure security

Merging the cyber and the physical aspects of security for an Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure is a tall order for many businesses. That’s because it requires an end-to-end strategy to secure far-flung components that can include IT systems, operational controls, cloud services, physical devices and sensors, and consumer technologies.

Securing the IoT will demand that businesses identify cyber and physical threats to their IoT infrastructure, determine the consequences of these threats, and carefully evaluate security strategies. This requires close collaboration among device manufacturers, resellers, deployers, solution developers, and cloud providers—a huge challenge given varying priorities of these stakeholders. Other roadblocks include a lack of standards for IoT security, disparate hardware and software capabilities, and a range of communications protocols and control systems.

Nonetheless, the risks of an IoT-based attack are too consequential to ignore. Consider the October 2016 DDoS attack on Dyn, an Internet DNS provider. The powerful assault harnessed connected devices like DVRs, webcams, and cable set-top devices to take down hundreds of websites around the world. At great cost: The financial impact alone of a DDoS attack can cost a company $ 250,000 an hour.[1]

An overview of Microsoft’s IoT Security Evaluation Framework

An overview of Microsoft’s IoT Security Evaluation Framework

Also consider that risks are amplified as more equipment and devices are connected in the IoT. Traditional threats extend to a broader range of interlinked systems, and the IoT introduces a new level of risk as it links physical equipment and consumer technologies like self-driving automobiles and connected medical devices. Nefarious activity can result in threats to human safety and even loss of life.

The first step to mitigate these risks will be to identify the threats that are most relevant. In addition to DDoS attacks, these can include breach of personal data, communications interception, natural disasters, physical attack, and hijacking.

This evaluation should factor in the entire lifecycle of an IoT infrastructure design, deployment, and operations. We recommend a critical threat-modeling analysis of infrastructure to discover the most likely threats and define actionable mitigation.

And because IoT devices often ship with disparate operating systems, computational capabilities, and access-control methods, a review of authentication and access-control schemes is also important. Consider, for instance, that devices typically come with default passwords enabled—and businesses often do not implement strong passwords. After deployment, companies should continue ongoing risk assessments of devices and make sure that a disciplined firmware update policy is followed.

Another critical action is network traffic analysis. IoT devices employ a variety of network topologies and communications protocols, and a standards-based approach can improve compatibility and security. As more manufacturing, facility management, and critical infrastructure organizations embrace the IoT, they should ensure that specialized protocols like SCADA systems are secure.

The right security evaluation framework

The components of an IoT security framework will vary among businesses, and each organization will need to design evaluation strategies that deliver the most value in time and money.

Microsoft’s IoT Security Evaluation Framework is a good place to start. It’s a step-by-step guide for assessing IoT infrastructure that uses existing threat models, links threats to consequences, and defines evaluation strategies that can detect flaws in IoT infrastructures. Whether you have already implemented an IoT infrastructure or are in the process of designing or deploying one, Microsoft can show you how a comprehensive IoT security framework can help grow, scale, and transform your business. To learn more, download our whitepaper, Evaluating Your IoT Security.

[1] Neustar, Worldwide DDoS Attacks & Cyber Insights Research Report, May 2017.

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Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service is now in public preview

Setting up and managing Internet of Things (IoT) devices can be a challenge of the first order for many businesses. That’s because provisioning entails a lot of manual work, technical know-how, and staff resources. And certain security requirements, such as registering devices with the IoT hub, can further complicate provisioning.

During the initial implementation, for instance, businesses have to create unique device identities that are registered to the IoT hub and install individual device connection credentials, which enable revocation of access in event of compromise. IT staff also may want to maintain an enrollment list that controls what devices are allowed to automatically provision.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a secure, automated way to remotely deploy and configure devices during registration to the IoT hub—and throughout their lifecycles? With Microsoft’s IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service (DPS), now in public preview, you can.

In a post on the Azure blog, “Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service preview automates device connection and configuration!“, Sam George explains how the IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service can provide zero-touch provisioning that eliminates configuration and provisioning hassles when onboarding IoT devices that connect to Azure services. This allows businesses to quickly and accurately provision millions of devices in a secure and scalable manner. In fact, IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service simplifies the entire device lifecycle management through features that enable secure device management and device reprovisioning. Next year, we plan to add support for ownership transfer and end-of-life management.

DPS is now available in the Eastern U.S., Western Europe, and Southeast Asia. To learn more about how Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service can take the pain out of deploying and managing an IoT solution in a secure, reliable way, read our blog post announcing the public preview. And for technical details, check out Microsoft’s DPS documentation center.

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Bringing the Internet of Things to life at World Congress IT 2017

The decreasing cost of IoT sensors. The increase in mobile devices. The scale of cloud-based platforms. Advances in traditional analytics as well as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

These are the trends that will enable almost every industry to adopt and create IoT solutions in the next few years. Faced with this pace of change and disruption, companies are wondering how to plan, implement, and keep up. They need the right people and the right technology to build a digital vision that will empower employees, engage customers, optimize operations, and transform products.

Microsoft has been working with customers and partners across multiple industries and regions to enable this digital transformation, and today we’re seeing a new paradigm — an intelligent cloud with an intelligent edge. Companies are building new experiences that are multi-device, multi-sense and not bound by any particular computing experience.

This week at the World Congress on Information Technology  and Microsoft’s IoT Expo running concurrently in Taipei, Taiwan, Jason Zander, CVP, Microsoft Azure discussed how some companies are using new capabilities to change their business with IoT — and announced new resources Microsoft is bringing to the region to help more customers and partners realize their vision for the network edge.

A new OPC UA testing lab in Taiwan

During the event, Zander announced a new lab for Industrial IoT to enable devices and solution partners in Asia for the Open Platform Communication–Unified Architecture (OPC UA) gateway protocol, based on the Azure IoT intelligent edge framework.

OPC UA is a nonproprietary protocol that is seeing growing adoption and has become one of the standards for Industry 4.0. While it is an open protocol that enables devices to easily share data, it is also a secure protocol for IoT Hub-assisted communication that allows companies to develop new IoT solutions with the firewall closed, so production doesn’t need to stop.

In addition to empowering customers and partners in the APAC region, the announcement also furthers Microsoft’s support for the OPC Foundation—a collection of large companies who collaborate on the protocol.

Federated Labs

Zander also announced a new “Federated Lab” model for Microsoft labs, to build up strategic alliances and bring together engineering resources for developing vertical IoT solutions.

From a business perspective, organizations who join the federated lab will be able to connect with allied parties through IoT Innovation Centers at Microsoft, to strengthen their IoT service value-chain and broaden global outreach. Through the federated lab partnership, companies can attain technical readiness training for Microsoft IoT, including Azure IoT Services, PCS, Data Analytics platform, and Cognitive Services.

Customers and partners can also join the discussion on use cases and business models for vertical IoT solutions, and share design and development guidance, reference architecture and industrial practices in collaboration with other federated lab partners.

Customers transforming their business with IoT

IoT, along with analytics, advanced AI, and machine learning are the key enablers of this transformation. Microsoft Cloud technologies are designed to bring all of these assets together, from infrastructure to PaaS to bots, and customers all over the world are using the Microsoft cloud to transform their production lines and service delivery:

  • Tatung Group: With a history stretching back nearly a century, Tatung is exploring new business models with multiple IoT services across consumers, enterprises, factories, buildings, and cities. Over the last two years, Tatung has utilized Azure IoT Suite to build a shared services IoT platform with multiple vertical offerings—energy management, fleet management, retail beacons, and Tatung Smart Appliances, and is working to further improve their service level with AI-powered proactive maintenance services.
  • Hershey: Ingredients like chocolate and licorice are sensitive: One or two degrees in the wrong direction could mean discarding an entire batch. Using Azure IoT and Azure Machine Learning, iconic snack brand Hershey was able to build predictive algorithms to ensure the licorice extruders on the Twizzler’s production line are performing at peak optimization, saving more than $ 0.5M a year. Hershey plans on expanding the solution to more expensive ingredients–such as chocolate–to help reduce waste and increase savings.
  • SkyAlert: Mexico is subject to eight times more earthquakes than the U.S., but their early warning system for civilians operates only in Mexico City and relies on outdated technology. SkyAlert built its own early-warning solution using sensors strategically placed in buildings around the city and is sending the data to Azure IoT Hub for processing. The solution is 100 percent accurate and reliable, can be expanded to new cities within a matter of three months, and best of all, can alert millions of citizens to pending earthquakes up to 2 minutes before they strike – allowing more time to seek safety.

These companies join others like thyssenkrupp, RAC and Stockrose in embracing Microsoft Cloud technologies and collaborating with partners worldwide to build groundbreaking IoT solutions with intelligence at the network edge.

Only Microsoft has all the pieces to enable this transformation from the cloud, to the edge and back again, and with these announcements, we’re deepening our commitment to providing not just the technologies, but the tools and expertise to innovate with IoT.

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Five ways edge computing will transform business

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been called “the mother of all infrastructures”—and it’s a revolution that has arrived. IoT is no longer just a niche solution for a handful of businesses but a core technology that’s fundamentally transforming how we work and live. And interestingly, it’s spurring an entirely new computing model called edge computing, which promises to forever alter how businesses interact with the physical world.

Edge computing refers to data processing power at the edge of the network, closer to the source of data. With edge computing, each device—whether it be a smartphone, drone, sensor, robot, HVAC unit, autonomous car, or other intelligent device—takes some of the data processing performed by the cloud and packages it up for processing and analysis at the edge.

Consider this: In just two years, 45 percent of all data created by IoT will be stored, processed, analyzed, and acted upon close to or at the edge of the network. And in just three years, 5.6 billion devices will be connected to an edge computing solution.

Several factors are fueling the growth of edge computing. As the cost of sensors and processors decreases, the number of intelligent devices has been skyrocketing. By 2020, it’s predicted that 50 billion things will be connected to the Internet. These devices will send trillions of messages—exponentially increasing loads across the network as well as the quantity of data that can be turned into actionable insights.

At the same time, the pace of business is intensifying, with instantaneous reaction times becoming a critical competitive advantage for many industries. Edge computing can help businesses very rapidly and inexpensively analyze and store portions of their data closer to where it’s needed, making it an important complement to cloud computing.

A valuable strategic advantage

As edge computing goes mainstream, it provides a major strategic benefit for a wide range of industries. Here are five ways edge computing will transform businesses in the near future:

  1. Lowering IoT solution costs: Edge computing allows you to process and analyze mission critical data closer to the device itself, reducing the amount of data that flows back and forth between the cloud and the edge of the network. Businesses can select which services run at the edge and what data gets sent to the cloud, lowering IoT solution costs and obtaining the most value from their overall IoT solution.
  2. Added security and compliance: Edge computing helps to address the security and compliance requirements that have prevented some industries from using the cloud. With edge computing, companies can filter out sensitive personally identifiable information and process it locally, sending the non-sensitive information to the cloud for further processing.
  3. Faster response times: Without a round-trip to the cloud, data latency is reduced, lowering the time it takes to glean actionable insights from that data. In this way, edge computing is poised to help autonomous vehicles avoid collisions, stop factory operations before equipment fails—and improve any situation requiring the instantaneous analysis of data.
  4. Dependable operation even with intermittent connectivity: Edge computing enables manufacturing equipment and other smart devices to operate without disruption even when they’re offline or Internet connectivity is intermittent. This makes it an ideal computing model for businesses that count on the ability to quickly analyze data in remote locations such as ships, airplanes, and rural areas—for instance, detecting equipment failures even when it’s not connected to the cloud.
  5. Interoperability between new and legacy devices: Edge computing converts the communication protocols used by legacy devices into a language that modern smart devices and the cloud can understand, making it easier to connect legacy industrial equipment with modern IoT platforms. As a result, businesses can get started with IoT without investing in expensive new equipment—and immediately capture advanced insights across their operations.

A complement to the cloud

It’s important to note that, in the same way PCs haven’t displaced the datacenter, edge computing will complement rather than replace cloud computing. Most businesses will use a combination of both depending on the problem at hand—processing some data locally, and sending some to the cloud for analysis.

While edge computing will be used in situations like those we’ve described here, the cloud will continue to provide critical value for many other scenarios. For example, businesses will continue to use the cloud to configure, deploy, and manage IoT devices, and for analyzing large datasets from dispersed sources—especially when instantaneous action isn’t needed.

But what’s truly exciting is what happens when you combine the power of cloud and edge computing to deliver the true value of IoT. Suddenly businesses will be able to analyze and take action on different types of data with incredible agility and precision, giving them a critical advantage against their competitors.

Edge computing will power the next wave of business transformation. The time to start is now, to avoid the risk of getting left behind. To learn more, please see our recent blog post, “Microsoft Azure IoT Edge – Extending cloud intelligence to edge devices,” and visit the Azure IoT Edge website.

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