Azure industrial IoT analytics guidance

IoT Edge
IoT Hub

Industrial internet of things (IIoT) is the application of IoT technology to the manufacturing industry. This series of articles discusses a recommended architecture for an IIoT analytics solution that uses Azure platform as a service (PaaS) components.

IIoT goes beyond moving existing manufacturing processes and tools to the cloud. A modern IIoT analytics solution uses PaaS services, machine learning (ML), and intelligent edge computing to transform industrial operations and processes.

IIoT analytics applications can support the following business practices:

  • Asset monitoring
  • Anomaly detection
  • Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) measurement
  • Predictive maintenance
  • Forecasting

The IIoT analytics architecture in these articles uses Azure Industrial IoT components. Not all Azure IIoT analytics solutions use all these services, and the articles mention alternatives where applicable.


An IIoT analytics architecture is an ingestion-only pattern that doesn't send control commands back to the industrial systems or devices. The following architectural diagram shows the core subsystems that form an IIoT analytics solution.

Diagram that shows an Azure IIoT analytics architecture with a device network, insights, actions, and visualizations.

  1. A control network of industrial devices sends data to the cloud through an edge field gateway.
  2. In the cloud, the cloud gateway sends data to a rules and calculations engine.
  3. The calculation engine sends data to microservices, or to machine learning. Data processing also incorporates time series and asset hierarchy data.
  4. Insights trigger actions like notifications and business process integration.
  5. Insights also power visualizations, including schematic views, trends, dashboards, and notebooks.

Industrial systems and devices

An IIoT analytics solution relies on real-time and historical data from industrial devices and control systems. These devices and control systems include:

  • Industrial equipment
  • Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)
  • Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems
  • Manufacturing Execution Systems (MESs)
  • Historians, also called process historians or operational historians

In discrete manufacturing, PLCs connect and control industrial equipment like factory robots and conveyor systems. Industrial protocols like Modbus might connect one or more PLCs to a central SCADA system.

Process manufacturing must often monitor geographically dispersed industrial equipment. Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) connect remote equipment to central SCADA systems. An RTU works well in conditions where connectivity and power supplies are intermittent and unreliable.

SCADA systems can forward and centralize data in an MES or in a data historian. Historians are often located in IT-controlled networks with some internet access.

Industrial equipment and SCADA systems are often located in closed Process Control Networks (PCNs) behind firewalls, with no direct internet access. Historians that contain industrial data from several facilities are located outside PCNs. Therefore, connecting to a historian is often easier than connecting to a SCADA, MES, or PLC. If no historian is available, connecting to an MES or SCADA system is the next logical choice.

The connection to a historian, MES, or SCADA system depends on what protocols are available and aren't blocked by firewalls. Many systems now support Industry 4.0 standards like OPC UA. Older systems might support only legacy protocols like Modbus, ODBC, or SOAP. Older systems often require protocol translation software running on edge devices to connect to the cloud.

Intelligent edge devices

Intelligent edge devices process some data on the devices themselves, or on a field gateway. Edge devices can operate in offline or intermittent network conditions, providing store and forward capabilities.

Edge workloads can:

  • Run anomaly detection or ML modules to surface insights in near real-time.
  • Reduce bandwidth and costs by cleaning and aggregating data locally, and sending only insights to the cloud.
  • Quickly respond to factory floor events by using one module to detect events and another module to respond.
  • Use a protocol translation module to convert legacy industrial protocols.

Protocol and identity translation are the most common edge workloads that IIoT analytics solutions use. The Azure Marketplace offers protocol and identity translation modules and solutions from Microsoft partners.

Azure IoT Edge

Azure IoT Edge devices run cloud-native workloads in built-in or custom modules, which are packaged as Docker containers. You can develop custom IoT Edge modules in several languages, with SDKs for Python, Node.js, C#, Java, and C. The Azure IoT Edge Marketplace also offers prebuilt Microsoft and partner IoT Edge modules.

The IoT Edge runtime provides two system modules:

  • The IoT Edge agent module pulls down the container orchestration manifest from the cloud, so IoT Edge knows which modules to run. Module configuration is part of the module twin.

  • The IoT Edge hub module manages inter-module communication and communication between the device and Azure IoT Hub in the cloud. Messages route from one module to the next with JSON configuration. IoT Edge encrypts and streams real-time industrial data to IoT Hub by using AMQP 1.0 or MQTT 3.1.1 protocols.

The following diagram shows a typical Azure IoT Edge device architecture.

Diagram that shows Azure IoT Edge architecture.

IoT Edge automatic deployments can specify deployment configuration across thousands of IoT Edge devices. Azure IoT Hub Device Provisioning Service (DPS) is an IoT Hub helper service that can provision IoT Edge devices in a secure and scalable way, without human intervention.

Field gateways

Most industrial equipment can't have software installed on it directly, so it needs a field gateway to connect to the cloud.

IoT Edge free, open source field gateway software runs on various supported devices or on a virtual machine (VM). Several Microsoft partner IoT Edge gateway devices are in the Azure Certified for IoT Device Catalog.

To connect industrial equipment and systems to the cloud, you can use IoT Edge as the field gateway for:

  • Protocol and identity translation.
  • Edge processing and analytics.
  • Adherence to network security policies like ISA 95 and ISA 99.

Proper hardware sizing of an IoT Edge gateway is important to ensure good edge module performance. For more information, see Performance considerations.

Protocol and identity translation

An IoT Edge field gateway device or VM uses three patterns for connecting devices to Azure:

  • Transparent devices can already send messages to IoT Hub using AMQP or MQTT. Instead of sending messages directly to IoT Hub, they can send the messages to IoT Edge, which passes them on to IoT Hub. Each device has an identity and device twin in Azure IoT Hub.

  • The protocol translation pattern is also called an opaque gateway pattern, and connects older brownfield equipment protocols like Modbus to Azure. IoT Edge modules do the protocol conversion. Devices must provide a unique identifier to the gateway.

  • The identity translation pattern is for devices like OPC UA PubSub or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) that can't communicate directly to IoT Hub. The field gateway understands the protocol the downstream devices use, provides the devices with identity, and translates the IoT Hub primitives. Each device has an identity and device twin in Azure IoT Hub.

The protocols your industrial systems use determine which patterns to use in your IIoT analytics solution. For example, if your SCADA system supports ethernet/IP, you need to use protocol translation software to convert ethernet/IP to MQTT or AMQP.

OPC UA standard

OPC UA is an open standard that defines the connectivity, interoperability, security, and reliability of industrial devices and systems. The OPC Foundation maintains the OPC UA standard. The OPC UA protocol is the successor to OPC Classic, DA, AE, and HDA. Microsoft is a member of the OPC Foundation, and supports OPC UA on Azure.

OPC UA bases industry and domain-specific information models on the OPC UA data model. The OPC UA infrastructure can exchange these companion specifications to support interoperability at the semantic level. OPC UA can use several transport protocols, including MQTT, AMQP, and UADP.

Azure Industrial IoT

Microsoft based the following open-source Azure Industrial IoT components on OPC UA to implement identity translation:

  • OPC Twin uses microservices and an Azure IoT Edge module to connect the cloud to a factory network. OPC Twin provides discovery, registration, and synchronous remote control of industrial devices through REST APIs. OPC Twin also supports the OPC HDA profile for historical data.

  • OPC Publisher is an Azure IoT Edge module that publishes telemetry data from OPC UA servers in OPC UA PubSub format, in both JSON and binary.

  • OPC Vault is a cloud microservice that can configure, register, and manage certificate lifecycle for OPC UA server and client applications.

  • Discovery Services is an Azure IoT Edge module that supports network scanning and OPC UA discovery.

See the Microsoft Azure IIoT solution on GitHub for more open-source services, REST APIs, deployment scripts, and configuration tools.

Historian connection

A common pattern in an IIoT analytics solution is to connect to a historian database, and stream real-time data from the historian to IoT Hub. The connection method depends on which protocols are installed and not blocked by firewalls on the historian.

Historian protocol Connection options
OPC UA • Use Azure IoT Edge, OPC Publisher, OPC Twin, and OPC Vault to send OPC UA data over MQTT to IoT Hub.
• Use a Microsoft partner Azure IoT Edge OPC UA module to send OPC UA data over MQTT to IoT Hub.
OPC DA • Use Microsoft partner software to convert OPC DA to OPC UA and send OPC UA data to IoT Hub over MQTT.
• Use OPC Publisher, OPC Twin, and OPC Vault to send OPC UA data over MQTT to IoT Hub.
Web service • Use a custom IoT Edge HTTP module to poll the web service.
• Use Microsoft partner software that converts HTTP to MQTT 3.1.1 or AMQP 1.0.

MQTT 3.1.1 that can publish MQTT messages • Connect the historian directly to IoT Hub using MQTT.
• Connect the historian to IoT Edge as a leaf device in the transparent gateway pattern.
Other • Use a custom Azure IoT Edge module.
• Use Microsoft partner software to convert to MQTT 3.1.1 or AMQP 1.0.

Historian vendors such as PI Integrator for Azure also provide first-class capabilities to send data to Azure.

After you establish real-time data streaming between the historian and IoT Hub, export the historian's historical data and import it into the IIoT analytics solution. For more information, see Historical data ingestion.

Cloud gateway

A cloud gateway provides a cloud hub for devices and field gateways to connect securely to the cloud and send data. The cloud gateway also provides device management capabilities.

You can use Azure IoT Hub as a hosted cloud service to provide secure connectivity, event ingestion, bidirectional communication, and device management. IoT Hub uses cloud-based REST APIs that can combine with Azure Industrial IoT components to control your industrial devices.

IoT Hub supports the following protocols:

  • MQTT 3.1.1
  • MQTT over WebSockets
  • AMQP 1.0
  • AMQP over WebSockets

An industrial device or system that supports any of the preceding protocols can send data directly to IoT Hub. Most industrial environments don't allow this direct connection, because of firewalls and network security policies.

In these cases, you can install an IoT Edge field gateway in a DMZ between the PCN and the internet. For more information, see Security considerations.


This article is maintained by Microsoft. It was originally written by the following contributors.

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