The Internet of things (IoT) is becoming one of the most relevant trends in the history of the software industry. As connectivity, storage, and compute become more pervasive, we’re seeing an explosion of IoT solutions, from sports to public safety. The trend is clear: The IoT is here to stay. As with any other trend in the history of computer software, it’s starting to produce a new generation of platforms.
While the initial generation of IoT solutions have focused on frameworks like Arduino or Raspberry Pi that enable communication with smart sensors, I believe a new generation of platforms that enable backend capabilities for IoT solutions is about to emerge. To use industry terms, let’s call this type of platform an IoT platform as a service (PaaS).
The need for IoT backend services
The rapid evolution of the IoT market has caused an explosion in the number and variety of IoT solutions. Additionally, large amounts of funding are being deployed at IoT startups. Consequently, the focus of the industry has been on manufacturing and producing the right types of hardware to enable those solutions. In that model, most IoT solution providers have been building all components of the stack, from the hardware devices to the relevant cloud services or the solutions. As a result, there is a lack of consistency and standards across the cloud services used by the different IoT solutions.
As the industry evolves, the need for standard models to perform common IoT backend tasks, such as event processing, storage, and firmware updates, is becoming more relevant. In that new model, we are likely to see different IoT solutions work with common backend services, which will guarantee levels of interoperability, portability and manageability that are almost impossible to achieve with the current generation of IoT solutions.
The need for standards and consistency is becoming more relevant in IoT deployments. As a result, we are seeing the first generation of standards, such as MQTT or XMPP, being widely adopted as the transport layer for IoT solutions. However, transport protocols are not sufficient to establish a complete IoT backend layer. More sophisticated services that abstract common IoT backend capabilities, such as storage, event aggregation, and firmware management, are needed.
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The emergence of the IoT PaaS
Meanwhile, backend services and infrastructures are becoming essential elements of IoT solutions, which can be seen as an extension of general PaaS. But they’ll have to feature IoT-optimized infrastructure services in order to be relevant for IoT solutions in the real world.
Mobile device management
In the enterprise mobile world, mobile device management (MDM) created a multi-billion-dollar industry that produced quite a bit of M&A activity, as well as at least one public standalone company, MobileIron. If we think about IoT deployments, we can find some of the same challenges that MDM tools addressed, but with much greater complexity. In that sense, I believe the IoT industry will produce platforms that mainly enable the management and operation of smart devices in an IoT topology.
In industrial IoT deployments, processing high volumes of data in real time and to provide meaningful analytics are essential for providing true business value. In that sense, I think IoT PaaS should include real-time analytics that can be used immediately. It could work with well established complex event processing platforms to perform real-time aggregations of the data smart devices produce.
IoT solutions testing
The emergence of mobile solutions has lead to new types of testing platforms that validated mobile solutions functionally across different types of devices, networks, and carriers. Following this pattern, I believe the arrival of more industrial IoT solutions will produce platforms that enable functional and integration testing capabilities across a variety of devices and topologies. From that perspective, this new generation of IoT testing platform should enable capabilities like dynamic message simulation, throughput generation, and the ability to record and replay message traffic under specific conditions.
Integration with enterprise systems
Integration with enterprise backend systems is incredibly important for industrial IoT. Consider, for example, a manufacturing plant equipped with sensors that monitor parts of the production line. Information the sensors produce gets aggregated and processed in real time by the IoT platform, which, upon detecting a condition, will update records in a production control system. Clearly, in this scenario, the information produced by IoT devices must be integrated with existing systems. To achieve that integration, IoT PaaS ought to provide the right level of connectors and backend integration capabilities that are optimized for high-traffic scenarios. Well established computing paradigms such as complex event processing will be incredibly useful to enable this sort of IoT integration.
Standing on the shoulders on existing platforms
While the concept of the IoT PaaS might seem novel, it’s fairly simple to deliver from a technological standpoint, due to the advances in cloud computing and mobile platforms. Today, most cloud infrastructure and platform technologies are equipped with high-throughput event processing services that can adapt to the needs of IoT. Additionally, these platforms address elastic scalability models.
Similar to cloud computing, the IoT PaaS concept can be built on the technology produced by the rapid evolution of the enterprise mobile industry over the past five years. If you think about mobile as a subset of IoT, then it’s safe to assume that well established enterprise platform concepts, such as MDM, mobile analytics, and mobile backend as a service, already offer a foundation for IoT PaaS solutions.
When is the right time to start? Follow the money
As with any emergent enterprise software trend, the IoT PaaS will take time to enter the mainstream. For enterprises, it might be hard to determine the right time to invest in this type of solution. For starters, one could follow the investments in the space. While there have been a few flavors of IoT PaaS solutions getting early funding, there haven’t been any major investments in the space. This is a clear sign that the industry is still maturing and framing out the capabilities of what will become the first generation of IoT PaaS solutions.
Jesus Rodriguez is a cofounder and chief executive of enterprise mobile application platform KidoZen.