Microsoft Azure vs. AWS vs. Google Cloud: What does each IoT cloud offer?

Public cloud services for connecting IoT devices – at least financially – do not yet play an important role for the large hyperscalers. The market researchers IoT Analytics however, expect IoT services and associated cloud infrastructure investments to grow faster than overall public cloud spending. The strategic importance will grow accordingly in the coming years, since the public cloud is developing into a multi-trillion dollar market.

The world’s three leading public cloud providers, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform (GPC) and Microsoft Azure, are differently positioned for this development, explains Mohammad Hasan, analyst at IoT Analytics: “While Microsoft Azure, due to its strong presence in the enterprise Leading the way in this space, AWS offers the largest portfolio of IoT cloud services and continues to expand with the launch of more industry-specific offerings.” In comparison, Google’s focus on IoT cannot currently match that of its major competitors.The three large hyperscalers AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure have different cloud IoT portfolios.

The three large hyperscalers AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure have different cloud IoT portfolios.
Photo: IoT Analytics

According to IoT Analytics one can roughly distinguish between three main categories of cloud services in the IoT environment:

  • The development and management of the IoT specific applications, including rule engines, IoT development environments and digital twins.
  • IoT device management including device monitoring, firmware updates or deployment configuration management.
  • The IoT data management/activation.

In their report “Cloud Computing for IoT Market Report 2021-2026” took a closer look at the three big hyperscalers and their portfolio of IoT cloud-specific services. Here is an overview.

According to IoT Analytics, Microsoft has the strongest base of enterprise customers of the big three hyperscalers. The reason: For many customers it was easy to add new Microsoft Azure cloud services to existing tools such as Power BI or industry-specific solutions such as Microsoft Cloud for Retail or Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing. Microsoft lists eight specific IoT cloud services on its IoT product page, namely:

  • Other IoT offerings: Azure Percept, Azure Sphere, Windows for IoT, Azure RTOS

According to market researchers, Azure IoT Hub, Microsoft’s hub for managing IoT devices, communicating with them and ingesting data from IoT devices to the cloud, appears to be the most widely used IoT service, followed by Azure IoT Edge . Microsoft also places a special focus on Industrial IoT (IIoT) and Edge Computing, including through Azure Sphere-certified chips and operating systems or through its Azure Percept Edge AI platform).

An example of how the various Microsoft IoT components work together is shown below reference architecture for condition monitoring in the IIoT area:

IIoT scenario: Condition Monitoring with Microsoft Azure
IIoT scenario: Condition Monitoring with Microsoft Azure
Photo: Microsoft

In the scenario, data from industrial plants is sent to edge devices running Azure IoT Edge. The data is then forwarded to the IoT Hub, which ingests it into the cloud and forwards it to industrial services hosted on Kubernetes container management. The industry services consist of several microservices that provide a REST API.

All industrial services are deployed in an Azure Kubernetes Service cluster. Azure Event Hub is used to transform and distribute the data to other services such as B. Azure IoT Time Series Insights, Data Storage and Stream Analytics. With this architecture, customers can monitor the most important parameters of their devices to detect anomalies before they become critical problems.

According to IoT Analytics, the great strength of AWS in the IoT area is the sheer mass of specific public cloud services and the associated customer base and developer ecosystem. The company lists a total of 227 different cloud services on its website. (Status: February 2022)

AWS lists 13 specific IoT cloud services in its portfolio:

  • device management: AWS IoT Device Management, AWS IoT Events, AWS IoT Device Defender, AWS IoT 1-Click
  • Data Management/Activation: AWS IoT Core, AWS IoT Greengrass, AWS IoT SiteWise, AWS IoT Analytics, AWS IoT ExpressLink, AWS IoT RoboRunner

The most popular IoT cloud service – based on analysis of public case studies – is IoT Core for AWS – Amazon’s counterpart to IoT Hub for Microsoft. With one major difference, analysts say: while Microsoft has its device management capabilities built into IoT Hub by default, an AWS customer can use IoT Core without some of the management capabilities, or add the AWS IoT Device Management service if needed.

Basically, according to IoT Analytics, the strategy of AWS goes in the direction of offering more but more specialized services. It is therefore not surprising that AWS has the largest portfolio of IoT-focused cloud services with 13 offerings, and the trend is rising. Most recently, AWS introduced two new IoT services at the re:Invent conference in December 2021: AWS IoT TwinMaker and AWS IoT FleetWise. The company also announced three other IoT-related services: AWS IoT RoboRunner, a dedicated service for robotics, AWS IoT ExpressLink, a connectivity software for hardware modules from AWS partners, and AWS Private 5G, a managed service for deployment, the Operation and scaling of a private 5G campus network.AWS IoT cloud scenario for smart devices using iRobot as an example

AWS IoT cloud scenario for smart devices using iRobot as an example
Photo: AWS

In this Reference architecture for smart products (iRobot) shows how the various IoT components from AWS interact: AWS IoT Core authenticates the messages from various smart products and forwards them to the microservices of the solution (AWS Lambda functions). AWS IoT Device Defender, in turn, checks the devices for their integrity. In addition, AWS IoT Analytics is used to analyze the data from the smart devices. It also uses non-IoT specific AWS services like Amplify, Amazon S3 and Amazon CloudFront.

Although Google Cloud is only third in the global public cloud computing market, the company is behind some of the newest and most widely used cloud technologies, such as Kubernetes. Google also has strengths in analytics, big data, and more recently AI and machine learning, given its heritage of organizing search and related data. GCP lists IoT Core as its only IoT cloud service. However, there is a whole list of other supporting features that are not IoT specific but add more functionality.

According to IoT Analytics Cloud, IoT Core is a fully managed service used for connecting IoT devices, comparable to Microsoft’s IoT Hub. It can be combined with other services offered by Google Cloud to build an end-to-end IoT solution. Google does not offer special IoT-specific data services such as AWS IoT Analytics, but the well-known analysis tools, such as BigQuery, can be used for further data processing and management.

With over 100 cloud services in total, and only one dedicated specifically to IoT, Google clearly doesn’t give IoT the same priority as its two biggest competitors. Google’s IoT focus is highly specialized, according to IoT Analytics, which also limits the company to some extent.

As an example, market researchers point to the trending topic of digital twins, which play a key role in many IoT scenarios: Google is blank here, while Azure has its Digital Twin service for creating models of physical environments, and AWS recently launched AWS IoT TwinMaker with a similar one brought out focus. However, IoT Analytics points out that Google recently unveiled Supply Chain Twin, a digital twin service for supply chain optimization.

A machine learning scenario on Google Cloud Platform.
Photo: Google Cloud Platform

the reference architecture shows how messages from devices are routed as events into the Cloud Pub/Sub event stream manager through IoT Core, which acts as a gateway between devices and cloud services. The Cloud Pub/Sub message triggers a cloud function, which is then executed. Cloud Dataflow (a managed service) helps transform the incoming data streams. It can be used to filter incoming data that is not needed for final storage. The messages remain temporarily in Cloud Pub/Sub, where they are stored for seven days. Dataflow transports the data to the storage and analysis area (Cloud Bigtable, BigQuery and AI Platform). Google also offers data visualization tools like Datalab and DataStudio.

Microsoft Azure vs. AWS vs. Google Cloud: What does each IoT cloud offer?

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