Extending openness and interoperability in industrial manufacturing
At Microsoft, we are committed to standards and interoperability in IoT. This is particularly important for industrial Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. In these IoT environments, we see OPC UA as a critical standard for ensuring interoperability between a broad set of manufacturing processes and equipment, spanning decades of investment for many companies.
At Hannover Messe 2016, we worked with the OPC Foundation to expand our product support of the OPC UA open-source software stack, which enables deep integration with Azure IoT, as well as the Universal Windows Platform (UWP). This includes advanced command and control, as well as data analytics capabilities in the cloud, enabling new levels of quality, efficiency, and agility.
Announcing enhanced OPC UA support for Windows, iOS, Linux and Android
Today we are announcing a new open-source reference stack that takes our support for OPC UA to a new level. Building and maintaining an industry-grade reference stack is a significant undertaking. It provides a single code base for all common platforms and is absolutely critical to reduce costs and maintain efficiencies. As developers use and contribute to this stack, it has the potential to vastly increase the share of OPC-enabled devices and create benefits across a broad ecosystem.
Microsoft will contribute a .NET Standard reference stack to the OPC Foundation GitHub open-source. As .NET Standard is platform-independent, this stack has the benefit of working on all common software platforms in market today, allowing the creation of OPC UA clients, servers and of course “OPC Publishers” (for sending telemetry data to the cloud) on Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10, iOS, Linux and Android platforms. In addition, OPC clients and servers can run directly on Azure using this stack.
Azure IoT Suite is the best solution for Industrie 4.0
As we demonstrated at Hannover Messe 2016, we believe that the Azure IoT Suite is the best choice for businesses to cloud-enable their industrial equipment—including already deployed machines—to allow for data and device management, insights, and machine learning capabilities, and even the ability to control their equipment remotely. Because our architecture makes use of the upcoming Publisher/Subscriber OPC specification extension and contains a sample application called OPC Publisher, you can connect directly to existing OPC UA servers and send OPC UA telemetry data to Azure IoT for analysis and machine learning in the cloud.
The OPC Publisher has since been contributed to the OPC Foundation GitHub open-source for the .NET, Java, and Universal Windows Platform (UWP) reference stacks. An ANSI-C version is also in the works. The UWP stack, which supports all Windows 10 editions including Windows Phone and HoloLens, was also published open-source on GitHub, with large contributions by Microsoft.
We also offer command and control of OPC UA servers running on premise from Azure. To enable this, our new Azure IoT Gateway SDK contains a plugin for OPC UA. The Azure IoT Gateway SDK is currently available open-source as a public beta on GitHub and a plug-in will become available shortly. As an industry first, we showed a standard OPC UA client running in the cloud as a web application. This web application can be used for connecting to the OPC UA servers on premise and then executing commands on them.
A word on security
When we first sat down with the OPC Foundation and discussed the integration of OPC UA into the Azure IoT Suite, we knew that getting security right would be the most important part, especially since we’re enabling the command and control of OPC UA devices on premise from the cloud. With the philosophy of building security from the ground up, we employ a wide range of security capabilities in our design, including service-assisted communication, WebSockets for outbound communication, and TLS encryption. Azure IoT Hub, our cloud gateway handling all OPC UA traffic, has been built from the ground up with security in mind. We continue to work with the OPC Foundation to simplify building secure systems based on OPC UA, as well as share best practices with the community.
With these capabilities, Industrie 4.0 initiatives can benefit by developing entirely new value propositions such as identifying quality issues early in the manufacturing process through machine learning algorithms. Machine builders can offer new business models such as machine-as-a-service or process-as-a-service shifting from product-centricity to customer oriented, solution-centric value propositions. And field service personnel can use mixed reality devices to converge 3D virtual information and real time data with physical systems to fix and optimize equipment.
An exciting road ahead
These are incredibly exciting times in Industrie 4.0 and this new open-source cross-platform reference stack will enable the next generation of connected OPC UA products. We can’t wait to see what the community will build with it!
To learn more about how IoT can help transform your business, visit www.InternetofYourThings.com.
UPDATE: We’ve just released the new OPC UA .Net Standard stack, open source and fully featured, on the OPC Foundation GitHub.