The Evolution of IoT Platforms
“No, this article is not about Harry Potter, I just really like this image! Sorry Potter fans, maybe a post in the future as long as I can get wizardry to relate to IoT… Oh, wait!”
The Internet Of Things started to gain traction when developers and companies began to think of IoT as not only physical devices or simply M2M but as a service. We have seen the web do this once before; we are all aware of what a SaaS or Software as a Service product is. Companies started to see the benefit of dumping the old model of building software and selling once for a lump sum vs., selling for a smaller price but in a monthly payment. The Internet of Things is taking that same path but at a much more rapid rate.
Back in 2012, if you did a search for IoT, or “Internet of Things” you would come back with an almost empty page. More so if you did a more specific search for “IoT Platforms.” So when did we start to see IoT Platforms become mainstream? The term IoT is quite old; it was coined back in 1999 by Kevin Ashton, an executive director of the Auto-ID Center. Over the next few years we see IoT start to pop up more and more, but in 2011 Arduino began to make IoT excisable to everyone with DIY hardware that connected your Arduino to the internet. Then in 2015 AWS launched an amazing new service called “AWS IoT” an IoT Platform, allow a user to send data from internet-connected devices to your AWS account. Now some say this was when the term IoT Platform was born, but there is evidence that shows large corporations like Microsoft and IBM had already begun development back in 2011 and launched enterprise service in 2012 & 2013 for IoT and even using terms like “Platform for connected devices” or “Enterprise Connected Device Platform.”
What did these early Platforms do?
These old platforms where very limited in usage, they often required stringent connection rules and used UDP or other protocols. The data and functionality were extremely specialized in how it worked; it’s not as we may think of in platforms today. These “platforms” were for large enterprises often handling machine to machine or M2M data exchange. As connected IoT devices got smaller and the “Maker” market started to pick up, we began to see a shift in how these devices needed to communicate.
MQTT was developed by Andy Stanford-Clark (IBM) and Arlen Nipper in 1999 for the monitoring of an oil pipeline through the desert. The goals were to have a protocol, which is bandwidth-efficient and uses little battery power because the devices were connected via satellite link and this was extremely expensive at that time. The protocol uses a publish/subscribe (pub/sub) architecture in contrast to HTTP with its request/response paradigm. Publish/Subscribe is event-driven and enables messages to be pushed to clients. The central communication point is the MQTT broker; it is in charge of dispatching all messages between the senders and the rightful receivers. Each client that publishes a message to the broker includes a topic into the message. The topic is the routing information for the broker. Each client that wants to receive messages subscribes to a particular topic, and the broker delivers all messages with the matching topic to the client. Therefore the clients don’t have to know each other, they only communicate over the topic. This architecture enables highly scalable solutions without dependencies between the data producers and the data consumers.
MQTT started to be used as the go-to communication method for IoT devices and how IoT Platforms began to broker the massive amounts of data now being generated by the newly connected devices.
New old ways to connect.
Yeah, that’s correct new “old” ways to connect your IoT device. Most of what we use today to connect our IoT devices is technology that was created well before the Internet of Things was even thought about. I cover most of the important communication methods in my last post titled “IoT RF & Transfer Protocols“. There I cover transfer protocols such as AMQP, XMPP along with MQTT.
The specialization of IoT Platforms
To begin, the term “IoT Platform” is not unique to Echolo or anyone in fact. It’s more of a descriptor to generally describe something. Companies use IoT Platform to describe the product or service they may sell but it’s not all the same. A Platform can be made up of many different moving pieces and is quite complex. For example, Microsoft Azure has an IoT Platform that offers device communication, it loosely offers some device management tools but is nothing compared to other IoT Platforms that have specialized in device management. Some Platforms even go as far as offering in-depth mapping and pinpoint location services within a web application like Mist. Much like SaaS products have specialized in niche markets IoT Platforms have done the same thing.
One very notable separation is the device management from the communication network. Device management is a real problem when it comes to IoT Devices and not many have done it well. In fact, you might not even know you have a management problem until you deploy your project!
As IoT continues to explode, the need for device management and deployment is becoming critical. Enterprises managing tens of millions of devices need a solution that offers complete visibility and control of their IoT networks. Most of today’s IoT systems are unable or do not support enterprise level or large device deployment. Often times the company does not know this is an issue until it comes time to actually deploy an IoT solution in the field, and is then stuck with the learning curve and massive delay in deployment resulting in a delay or loss in revenues.
Rigado is a great example of a company that is doing device management very well. They give you access to communicate with any Platform you would like but retain device management within the Rigado Platform allowing them to specialize in this particular part of the Platform they control.
The Right Platform
When choosing the correct IoT platform it’s important to now consider what message broker is brokering the messages between your devices and applications.
Companies are often concerned that their employees lack IoT skills and knowledge, along with senior managers lacking knowledge of, and a commitment to, the required technologies to succeed with an IoT strategy. The Internet of Things is new and often a very nebulous idea. In fact, 70% of companies often look to outside consultants or IoT companies for help or try to learn from early movers in similar markets.
When companies look to secure outside help “like Echolo” they tend to be more successful and reach the market faster. Consultants have often seen the pitfalls and can help identify issues early because of the experience they already had with launching IoT based projects.