IBM Watson vs Microsoft Azure: Compare top IIoT products

The Microsoft Azure and IBM logos.
Image: Rebecca Olason/TechRepublic

Industrial IoT edge-cloud platforms allow companies to leverage the latest in technology and collect, analyze and automate devices while leveraging tools like machine learning, AI and digital twins to optimize operations.

IBM Watson IoT platform and Microsoft Azure IoT are two solutions for organizations looking for innovative and smart IIoT integrated technology. In this guide, discover the platforms, understand the features they offer and learn how they compare head-to-head.

SEE: Hiring Kit: IoT developer (TechRepublic Premium)

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What is IBM Watson IoT?

The IBM logo.
Image: IBM

The IBM Watson IoT platform is a holistic, fully managed, cloud-based solution. With central dashboards and simple user interfaces, users can add, scale and manage devices easily.

Using the platform, users can control IIoT devices and environments, monitor usage, security and more. Key software features include blockchain, APIs to build mobile IIoT apps, and AI-driven analytics and visualization dashboards.

What is Microsoft Azure IoT?

The Microsoft Azure logo.
Image: Microsoft

Microsoft Azure IoT is an open edge-to-cloud solution. Companies can operate all their devices and the data they generate from a single control dashboard. Microsoft provides built-in security for every step of the IIoT lifecycle. Organizations can connect, manage, update and monitor edge devices using the platform while keeping their software, hardware and cloud environment secure.

Azure IoT differentiates itself by offering its customers access to an ecosystem of thousands of partners that have already deployed hundreds of technology solutions for specific business needs. This feature allows users to streamline IIoT app development for their specific business cases. Automation, transformation and optimization are some of the greatest strengths of the Azure IoT cloud.

Watson vs. Azure: Feature comparison

Feature IBM Watson Microsoft Azure
Protocol for device connectivity and communication. MQTT, HTTPS MQTT, Websockets, HTTPS, AMQP
Supports all types of data formats, structured and unstructured. Yes Yes
IoT Hub and AI analytics Yes Yes
Integration for app building Yes Yes
Data preparation and processing Yes Yes
Support Yes, live 24/7 support included Yes, but no live 24/7 support
Digital twins Yes, through IBM Digital Twin Yes, through Azure Digital Twins

Head-to-head comparison: Watson vs. Azure

IoT Hub and central dashboards

Both IBM Watson IoT and Microsoft Azure IoT offer hubs and central dashboards. In the Azure IoT Hub, organizations can virtually connect any edge device to the cloud. The hub has built-in device management as well as security and provisioning scaling, and the Microsoft Device Update for IoT Hub enables over-the-air deployment of updates to help keep IoT devices up to date and secure.

In contrast, IBM device management services are designed for operations like rebooting or updating firmware. Both platforms offer bi-direction device edge-cloud communications, and you can run diagnostics as well as add or remove IoT devices in bulk.

Azure IoT device management requires less technical skills and can be operated with no code. While IBM also offers user-friendly interfaces, it may require its workforce to be familiarized with the environment.

IoT app building

Building apps to manage and optimize IIoT environments is critical for any industry. To meet these demands, IBM and Microsoft take on different approaches but still share common ground.

Microsoft chooses to differentiate itself from IBM with its resources, tools and partners for APIs. The company draws from its partners’ experience, making already-tested IoT apps available. Azure IoT also helps users streamline IoT app development with automation. Through Azure IoT Central, users can build applications with a fully managed IoT solution offering. Apps can be customized and dashboards can be restructured.

On the other hand, through IBM Developer, Watson offers several APIs. Both companies work with Representational State Transfer APIs, but IBM’s available APIs range from organization administration, information, state and risk management to other basics.

Security

Securing IoT edge-cloud architectures is complex. Edge gateways, networks and physical devices must be resilient to industrial environmental conditions, secure from on-site tampering, and maintained and monitored at both hardware and software levels.

Microsoft — known for its efforts in cybersecurity — provides end-to-end solutions to mitigate and minimize threats that may arise from people, processes, data or devices. With Azure IoT, users get integrated IoT security information and event management, security orchestration, automation and response, and extended detection and response solutions for deployment, devices, edge and cloud services.

On the other hand, IBM focuses on monitoring the IoT ecosystem to recognize usage and performance patterns to detect anomalies while validating IoT data and transactions. Through X-Force Red, the company offers unique penetration testing services conducted by expert Red Hat hackers. IBM explains that monitoring full IIoT environments is a waste of time and resources. Through penetration tests, they can evaluate the risks and vulnerabilities of the IIoT environment, networks, hardware, software and personnel to remediate them before cybercriminals can exploit them.

Data processing, analytics, AI and digital twins

When it comes to data processing and formats, both IBM and Microsoft support all types of data, including structured and unstructured data. Additionally, they offer AI-driven analytics, automated data cleansing and preparation, and digital twins.

Choosing between IBM Watson vs. Microsoft Azure

Both IBM Watson and Microsoft Azure are robust, state-of-the-art IoT platforms. The two leading vendors offer very similar features, capabilities and resources. Managers and decision-makers should turn to their IoT, data and IT teams before going one way or the other. The main difference between both platforms is the technological environment.

Microsoft has several tools that can help streamline app development. Businesses looking to build apps or benefit from a large ecosystem of partners that offer tested solutions can benefit from the platform. Users may feel overwhelmed by the many IoT products Azure offers, whereas IBM Watson IoT is a more integrated solution but requires advanced technical knowledge.

Regarding security, Microsoft has established its reputation as a global leader in this sector. However, IBM offers penetration testing, a powerful tool to strengthen security, especially in an IoT-edge-cloud environment.

The platform you choose will depend on how many apps you intend to build, the specific security priorities that your business has, and how familiarized the team that will manage the platform is with one solution or the other.

TechRepublic also recently did another comparison. Check out how the AWS and Azure IIoT solutions compare here.

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