IoT platforms and their solution development have crossed different maturity levels. At first, devices were primitive, isolated and working with limited functions before slowly evolving to communicate and connect with other devices using lightweight communication protocols, and then stepping into advanced level with remote management of devices, harvesting the data from devices and smart decisioning and analytics. Beyond that, IoT has moved to optimized levels of using multiple technology options and adopting cloud and DevOps disciplines to build intelligent IoT solutions.
This article focuses on giving insights on choice for IoT platforms and factors influencing build or buy options for IoT solutions, different hosting options, factors on IoT development in the cloud and more.
IoT Platforms: Build, Buy or Both?
The dilemma of whether to build an IoT system from scratch or buy an off-the-shelf platform still continues. Below are some of the key factors to consider before making the critical decision.
- Price: If you plan to build an IoT platform, the infrastructure setup and operation costs can be high. And, as you plan to scale, there will be additional infrastructure cost in setting up additional data centers in that region. If you buy an IoT platform, prebuilt infrastructure is available across global data centers to scale out on a per-usage basis. Plus, you get the the benefit of buying devices from a certified partner ecosystem with discounted device prices. You can buy a few devices from cloud vendors or other device manufacturers, and use mix of devices, mix of cloud/multi-clouds or on-premises, using mix of platform as a service (PaaS)/infrastructure as a service (IaaS) at competitive prices.
- Time to Market: A house-built IoT systems will typically take about six to 12 months to complete, including infrastructure setup, device development and software development and testing. Depending on the complexity of the business case, the release cycle may take even more time to get to production, especially with ongoing device technology updates, lack of protocol standards and new business demands.
Under the buy option, you can buy preconfigured end-to-end solutions available for common IoT use cases such as remote monitoring, predictive maintenance and connected factory, and these solutions can be customized based on need. You can even try to build only few components of IoT solution which may not be available from the vendor, such as the devices/edge, build a field gateway and use preconfigured solutions for data ingestion and data processing, data analytics and data storage components. There are starter kits available to quickly prototype, evaluate and deploy, eliminating spending more cost and effort, before hitting to the ground.
- Skillset/Expertise: Building an IoT platform requires a skilled team with expert knowledge of software and hardware and development, which costs more. Currently there is lack of skilled IoT experts with a mix of software and hardware knowledge in traditional industrial-based enterprises.
When buying a IoT solution from vendors, the solutions are prebuilt and guided by standards and best practices. The platforms are built by experts who are proven with cloud infrastructure, based on their experience working with large customer base and customer support—necessary for IoT platform development.
- Scalability: When you plan to scale your business, you need to scale your infrastructure as well. With millions of devices connecting to your infrastructure to send and receive data and firmware updates, monitor the devices, support multiple range of network providers and store large volumes of data being collected and processed, you need a scalable infrastructure on-premises or in the cloud to meet those demands. Setting up a scalable infrastructure on your own requires skilled labor, effort and cost.
Real-time streaming and data processing capability is available for large volumes of data workload, enabling scaling of individual components of IoT solution, as well scaling as scale units (group of components for data ingestion, data processing and data storage). Choices of different cloud vendors give you options to scale based on demand, horizontally or vertically, adding/removing devices with portability options and providing on-demand simulated test environments with the flexibility to choose multiple clouds or a mix of PaaS/IaaS options from different clouds or hybrid infrastructure.
- Security: For in-house IoT development, teams should be aware of various security attacks and develop systems with current security strategies and technologies to both protect data and devices and maintain data privacy. A large infrastructure is needed to support the sandboxed hosting of data in separate geographic regions for secure data storage, device security and user security.
IoT platform vendors provide security standards. For example, Microsoft provides SDL (Security Development Lifecycle), which enables developers to follow the standards during device development and ensures development happens with security built at all parts of system. These platform providers have prebuilt infrastructure for secure data storage, cloud security, user security, application security and device security, and has separate security teams to protect the data at all levels.
- Analysis & Visualization: It’s estimated that 90 percent of the large volumes of data collected from millions of devices remains unused in most enterprises. To tap the data for valuable business metrics, data analysis/algorithms should be updated as industry and device requirements change and extensions are needed to integrate data with data analysis tools to churn the data. There are open-source and proprietary tools available for data mining and data analytics and custom dashboards must be built to monitor the telemetry, setup rules and actions.
Preconfigured solutions and most IoT platform providers have out-of-box data analysis tools integrated and rules can be defined to analyze data with customizable dashboards, enabling you to focus more on business outcomes and how to churn/mine data, rather than focusing on building algorithms/tools/dashboards from the scratch.
Factors Driving Cloud-based IoT Development
Considering the various factors, a hybrid option with mix of buy and build for IoT platform components is better compared to building the platform from scratch, as you get out-of-the-box features from the off-the-shelf platforms that are customizable and extensible to business needs.
The following are some of the factors driving more and more IoT development in cloud (single/multi-cloud/hybrid), making IoT grow exponentially:
- Increasing number of devices – billions/trillions of devices interconnected
- Need for remote processing power and high compute
- Need for hyperscale systems for processing hot/cold/warm/fast data pipeline with low latency
- Need a platform that can quickly evaluate, prototype and deploy IoT applications
- Need a platform that provides security by design across devices, gateways, networks, data processing, users and applications
- Usage of advanced analytics and monitoring solutions available in cloud
- Leverage interdevice communications, interservice communications
- Utilize preconfigured IoT solutions for most of the popular use cases such as remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, with proven practices/patterns.
- High data storage, highly scalable with minimum cost to deploy
- QoS features in cloud—security, performance, usability, backup, etc.
- Cloud gateway providers have support for various devices and provides extensibility
- Cost of devices, cost to deploy and internet usage has dropped
- Out-of-box support and availability of big data and machine learning techniques in the cloud with mobile data visualization
- Ease of integration with DevOps tools in cloud, end-to-end testing with simulated devices as containerized environments in cloud
Expanded internet connectivity, reduced cost of devices, increased spread adoption of remote devices such as smartphones, usage of big data, machine learning techniques and cloud adoption, competitive pricing models and more are the key drivers for IoT’s growth in cloud.
About the Author / Lavanya Subbarayalu
Lavanya Subbarayalu is Senior Architect working with Technology Office in HCL Technologies. She has expertise in IOT, Azure, DevOps consulting & Microsoft technologies. She is associated with DevOps COE, working on design and Development of DevOps solutions and consulting tools. Connect with her on LinkedIn.