Microsoft Azure cloud platform connects with Rockwell Automation as first industrial partner

Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service selected Rockwell Automation as an early adopter, the first partner in the industrial space, as part of Microsoft’s effort to bring greater connectivity to its customers, according to Barb Edson, general manager of Microsoft IoT commercial. Edson was the RSTechED keynote speaker for June 17. She said it’s not about billions of connected devices in the Internet of Things; it’s about connecting your things.

By Mark T. Hoske June 18, 2014

If manufacturers don’t act now on connecting to Internet of things (IoT) ecosystems, they could miss opportunities that allow them to remain competitive, according to Barb Edson, Microsoft general manager of IoT commercial, the RSTechED keynote speaker for June 17. She announced Rockwell Automation as an early adopter of Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service, introduced on April 15. The service allows users to more easily connect any devices, not just Microsoft devices. Enabling tools include remote monitoring using cloud-based, dashboard, and portal technologies. Users of the platform can connect, configure, protect, harness, and administer all assets across platforms creating rules, extending systems, and building new opportunities with partners like Rockwell Automation, she said.

Manufacturers face major competitive issues, such as globalization, product and process innovation, customer centricity, and security, with thousands of attacks daily. IoT can help create viable solutions. Gartner defined IoT as the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and interact with their internal states or the external environment.

The IoT is big, noisy, and confusing, and manufacturers encounter many opinions and many possible decisions.

Edson suggested starting small and making an impact.

"You don’t care about 212 billion connected devices. You need to take advantage of devices you already own to get more from what already exists. It’s not about everything; it’s about your things," she said.

For manufacturers, that means controllers, robots, human machine interface (HMI), business analytics, and connecting data silos in enterprise resource planning systems, customer relationship management systems, and available public data, such as weather and maps.

Manufacturers can benefit from a managed service that enables new internal processes and models, competitive differentiation, proactive and predictive maintenance, and the ability to make a service organization become a growth and profit center.

Information flow from connected devices, equipment, sensors, and devices can capture granular data and monitor real-time performance. New services can feed information to machine builders to optimize equipment and performance. Such services also can benefit sales and marketing, and help organizations use energy more efficiently.

Kuka Robotics, among Rockwell Encompass partners, was cited as a "nirvana" example of IoT use, in a video that shows a Toledo, Ohio, plant that produced eight types of Jeep body, one every 77 seconds, on one line, continuously, more than 830 daily, using intelligent systems, connecting 60,000 device points.

Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service helps manufacturers ensure quick return on investments (ROI) by deploying out-of-the-box cloud services to automate alarms and response options, drive intelligent services, capture a variety of data, use familiar analytics, simplify analysis with rationalized data, and present data easily in existing systems. It operates from a central dashboard, which can be managed remotely, with distributed packages and commands, integrating existing systems and scaling as needed. It capitalizes on cloud capabilities and speeds innovation with third-party solutions.

Security is built in, unifying protection system wide, allowing customers to configure granular permissions, transport data through secure channels, and access full data recovery features.

Customers can respond and recover quickly from incidents, connecting previously fragmented solutions by using the Azure Intelligent Systems Service.

Users can expand, change, and scale connections.

The software enables updates automatically, pushing data down to devices.

Underground application

Users can analyze information, develop predictive models, and update business rules, implementing extensive applications in as little as 14 days, in the case of the London Underground, where Telent CGI, a global system integrator, used Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service. The application streamlined monitoring. It integrated and automated many functions, providing live data where there was none. It measures asset performance over time using gateway technology in this application, but it could have connected directly to controllers, Edson said.

Disparate systems and lack of cohesive monitoring made Twitter 20 minutes faster indicator of problems than the London Underground’s own services.

Showing a station map, Edson noted similarities to the manufacturing environment, equating a critical outage of an escalator to a critical line on a factory floor. Azure ISS can provide alerts through phone calls, text messages, and video, warning of bearing wear in an escalator; an escalator outage creates chaos if down, generating fines.

Edson showed a dashboard with an embedded video, connected to Maximo underneath, generating a rush order among 15 pending jobs if an outage is imminent.

Comment on Azure announcement

After Edson’s presentation, Ted Hill, Rockwell Automation director of business development, told Control Engineering that Rockwell uses Azure in its remote monitoring capabilities and expects Azure Intelligent Systems Service to make connections even easier. "Customers don’t have to have deep knowledge of products," Hill said. Rockwell Automation can do the monitoring and escalate any issues with contacts to take appropriate actions to best handle situations.

Rockwell Automation medium-voltage drives are an example of large critical assets that can benefit from such monitoring, Hill said. Azure ISS fills gaps and adds capabilities, requiring less integration from Rockwell Automation and accelerating value more quickly.

– Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

ONLINE extra

See related article below from RSTechED USA 2014 about Rockwell Automation production systems.

Search Azure at to see others using that platform.

See more from Rockwell Automation about RSTechED USA.

See London Underground video about the Telent project using Microsoft Azure Intelligent Systems Service at

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.