Selecting a cloud provider for your IoT product
Companies beginning the design and development of new IoT products have often heard of how cloud providers such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) can help deploy and scale their products quickly. For this reason, one of the most frequently asked questions is: Which cloud provider should I choose? Azure and AWS have expanded their services over the past few years. So let’s take a closer look at Azure versus AWS and which cloud provider might be right for you and your new IoT product.
Considerations: Azure vs. AWS
From a technical perspective, you want to choose a cloud provider that not only meets your immediate needs, but also scales easily with your years in business. Azure and AWS can easily support most of your functional and non-functional requirements, let’s take a step back and look at them from a high level perspective first.
- If you have an existing partnership with either vendor, continuing with the same vendor can minimize system-level integration issues.
- If your business relies on Microsoft Suite, working with Azure can allow you to take advantage of internal features you want to use, such as Azure File Storage.
- If you’re considering international expansion, it’s important to consider each vendor’s region and availability zones by country.
Out of the box, both Azure and AWS offer highly secure and scalable offerings. You’ll have access to certification-based security, be able to transmit data bi-directionally, and easily manage the number of devices you use. Plus, you’ll be able to update the underlying containerized software with their over-the-air (OTA) updates, just like a Tesla!
Azure’s unique IoT offerings lie in its integration with the Windows operating system, hardware specialization, and additional special security features. Some of its offers:
- Microsoft tries to make all of its products compatible with the Windows operating system, including their IoT stacks. Although not common, if your IoT device is running a Windows operating system, Azure facilitates compatibility with their IoT hub.
- Azure’s IoT Sphere service is a specialized hardware chip and underlying firmware that provides users with a true end-to-end security experience. This can be useful for hardware devices that need to be HIPAA compliant.
- Azure supports Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP). AMQP provides additional security when connecting, supports peer-to-peer connection, is more extensible, and has many other advantages.
AWS offers customization and a wider variety of tools than Azure, along with a selection of analytics services tailored and designed to work with IoT Core and Greengrass.
- AWS’ latest IoT service, IoT TwinMaker, takes the Digital Twin concept to a new level, where you can create a virtualization of your IoT world. Visually, it’s now much easier to see, navigate, and manage your solutions.
- Working with IoT Analytics to analyze your device data with Device Defender allows you to mitigate issues found in audit results, while Azure will only monitor without mitigating issues.
- AWS IoT Core and IoT Device Management services are HIPAA-eligible services and may be HIPAA-compliant.
- One unique thing about the AWS IoT framework is the direct C++ device SDK. Although Azure and AWS provide many common languages for the SDK, and Azure works with .NET, AWS C++ support is more advanced.
Table of scoring criteria
We’ve generated a list of criteria and a respective performance rating for AWS and Azure based on these latest service offerings, described below.. For any project, you should weigh the importance of each criteria, multiply by the respective cloud provider’s score, and sum up the score.
Examples of use cases
#1: Develop a new medical device
Company A is creating a new medical device that will be launched in North America and several countries in Asia. Company A has worked with AWS and Azure on a case-by-case basis and needs to determine with which vendor to choose the new product, which must be HIPAA compliant. Due to recent security issues with international expansion, the product will have additional internally developed security measures. As the business case is still in its infancy, the product communication protocol must accommodate potentially diverse regulations.
As stated above, the recommended cloud provider should be Azure to potentially leverage its AMQP protocol and IoT Sphere service if needed. Using the Azure IoT service here is a risk management strategy, and the trade-off would be that the C++ device SDK is unofficial and a workaround will be needed.
#2: Equipment monitoring and diagnostics
Company B opens a new manufacturing company with state-of-the-art machinery to build electric vehicles. To monitor and track the status of all of its major hardware components, the company has directly partnered with bot vendors to integrate IoT health telemetry reporting. Company B’s primary success criteria is hours of operation and the ability to predict when each piece of equipment will fail and why. This will result in continuous real-time telemetry measurements, simulating scenarios with device telemetry and being able to understand the cause of failures. Additional security will be handled through the factory network itself, and vendors are flexible with device development languages and use of the MQTT protocol for its lightweight functionality.
Company B should opt for an AWS-based framework as it provides out-of-the-box audit mitigation and analytics, IoT Sitewise, and IoT Analytics. The potential trade-off here is that they would lose out on hardware-integrated security.
Azure vs. AWS: Necessary Questions
Here are some questions you can ask about your product development:
- As you will likely get to deployment fastest by continuing the relationship, do you have any partnerships or are you already using a product suite with Microsoft or AWS?
- Does either cloud provider have a specific offering that is essential for your product solution?
- Based on the breakdown of the evaluation matrix scores and your technical requirements, do you foresee a feature from a particular vendor that could significantly accelerate your development?
- Do you think the default criteria in the weighted evaluation matrix accurately represent your product?
Selecting the right cloud provider for your new IoT product is complicated, but can be made easier with increased transparency in your product roadmap. When you know which criteria are most important, you can understand Azure versus AWS and match them to the technical requirements of your product solution.