Adding New Capabilities for Real-Time Analytics to Azure IoT


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Expand the Possibilities for Azure IoT Hub with Real-Time Digital Twins

The population of intelligent IoT devices is exploding, and they are generating more telemetry than ever. Whether it’s health-tracking watches, long-haul trucks, or security sensors, extracting value from these devices requires streaming analytics that can quickly make sense of the telemetry and intelligently react to handle an emerging issue or capture a new opportunity.

The Microsoft Azure IoT ecosystem offers a rich set of capabilities for processing IoT telemetry, from its arrival in the cloud through its storage in databases and data lakes. Acting as a switchboard for incoming and outgoing messages, Azure IoT Hub forms the core of these capabilities. It provides support for a range of message protocols, buffering, and scalable message distribution to downstream services. These services include:

  • Azure Event Grid for routing incoming events to a variety of handlers, including serverless functions, webhooks, storage queues, and other services
  • Azure IoT Central for managing devices, visualizing incoming telemetry on a dashboard, triggering alerts, and integrating with line-of-business applications
  • Azure Stream Analytics for simultaneously analyzing aggregated telemetry streams using extended SQL queries to extract patterns that can be fed to workflows, including alerts, serverless functions, and data storage with offline processing
  • Azure Time Series Insights for storing time-series data and then exploring, modeling, and querying it to gain insights, such as identifying anomalies and trends, with a rich set of analytics tools
  • Azure Digital Twins for creating a graphical representation of the assets within an organization using the Digital Twin Definition Language, processing events, and visualizing entity graphs to display and query status

While Azure IoT offers a wide variety of services, it focuses on visualizing entities and events, extracting insights from telemetry streams with queries, and migrating events to storage for more intensive offline analysis. What’s missing is continuous, real-time introspection on the dynamic state of IoT devices to predict and immediately react to significant changes in their state. These capabilities are vitally important to extract the full potential of real-time intelligent monitoring.

For example, here are some scenarios in which stateful, real-time introspection can create important insights. Telemetry from each truck in a fleet of thousands can provide numerous parameters about the driver (such as repeated lateral accelerations at the end of a long shift) that might indicate the need for a dispatcher to intervene. A health tracking device might indicate a combination of signals (blood pressure, blood oxygen, heart rate, etc.) that indicate an emerging medical issue for an individual with a known medical history and current medications. A security sensor in a key-card access system might indicate an unusual pattern of building entries for an employee who has given notice of resignation.

In all of these examples, the event-processing system needs to be able to independently analyze events for each data source (IoT device) within milliseconds, and it needs immediate access to dynamic, contextual information about the data source that it can use to perform real-time predictive analytics. In short, what’s needed is a scalable, in-memory computing platform connected directly to Azure IoT Hub which can ingest and process event messages separately for each data source using memory-based state information maintained for that data source.

ScaleOut Software’s Digital Twin Streaming Service provides precisely these capabilities. It does this by leveraging the digital twin concept (not to be confused with Azure Digital Twins) to create an in-memory software object for every data source that it is tracking. This object, called a real-time digital twin, holds dynamic state information about the data source and is made available to the application’s event handling code, which runs within 1-2 milliseconds whenever an incoming event is received. Application developers write event handling code in C#, Java, JavaScript, or using a rules engine; this code encapsulates application logic, such as a predictive analytics or machine learning algorithm. Once the real-time digital twin’s model (that is, its state data and event handling code) has been created, the developer can use an intuitive UI to deploy it to the streaming service and connect to Azure IoT Hub.

As shown in the following diagram, ScaleOut’s streaming service connects to Azure IoT Hub, runs alongside other Azure IoT services, and provides unique capabilities that enhance the overall Azure IoT ecosystem:

ScaleOut Digital Twin Streaming Service in the Azure IoT ecosystem

ScaleOut’s streaming service handles all the details of message delivery, data management, code orchestration, and scalable execution. This makes developing streaming analytics code for real-time digital twins fast and easy. The application developer just focuses on writing a single method to process incoming messages, run application-specific analytics, update state information about the data source, and generate alerts as needed. The optional rules engine further simplifies the development process with a UI for specifying state data and a sequential list of business rules for describing analytics code.

How are the streaming service’s real-time digital twins different from Azure digital twins? Both services leverage the digital twin concept by providing a software entity for each IoT device that can track the parameters and state of the device. What’s different is the streaming service’s focus on real-time analytics and its use of an in-memory computing platform integrated with Azure IoT Hub to ensure the lowest possible latency and high scalability. Azure digital twins serve a different purpose. They are intended to maintain a graphical representation of an organization’s entities for management and querying current status; they are not designed to implement real-time analytics using application-defined algorithms.

The following diagram illustrates the integration of ScaleOut’s streaming service with Azure IoT Hub to provide fast, scalable event handling with low-latency access to memory-based state for all data sources. It shows how real-time digital twins are distributed across multiple virtual servers organized into an in-memory computing cluster connected to Azure IoT Hub. The streaming service uses multiple message queues in Azure IoT Hub to scale message delivery and event processing:

Connecting Azure IoT Hub to the ScaleOut Digital Twin Streaming Service

As IoT devices proliferate and become more intelligent, it’s vital that our cloud-based event-processing systems be able to perform continuous and deep introspection in real time. This enables applications to react quickly, effectively, and autonomously to emerging challenges, such as to security threats and safety issues, as well as to new opportunities, such as real-time ecommerce recommendations. While there is an essential role for query and offline analytics to optimize IoT services, the need for highly granular, real-time analytics continues to grow. ScaleOut’s Digital Twin Streaming Service is designed to meet this need as an integral part of the Azure IoT ecosystem.

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