It seems like every few days, yet another company makes an announcement about the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the latest biggies was Amazon Web Services (AWS), which announced a number of new services at the AWS: Reinvent show in Las Vegas. The new services have interesting names such as QuickSight, Kinesis Firehose, Snowball and something called AWS IoT.
The sheer number of these new services raises an important question: What do they mean for the IoT industry as a whole? And what do they mean for manufactures that offer, or want to offer, connected products for the IoT?
Announcements like this from Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and other major players are important because they validate the potential of the IoT market. These companies don’t throw themselves into insignificant opportunities.
Still, most manufacturers of the “things” that make up the IoT lack the specialized technical resources and know-how to put all these IoT services into practice. What most manufacturers need is an onramp to the IoT: a cloud-based IoT platform that handles all the end-to-end steps and considerations required to connect products to the cloud (including the AWS cloud) and the IoT.
IoT Platform Requirements
Let’s take a look at some characteristics needed for an IoT platform to provide an onramp to services such as those offered by AWS:
Tightly integrated, end-to-end platform. There’s more to marketing a successful IoT-connected product than stringing together a suite of technologies. For instance, how will security and security handoffs be handled, including product-to-cloud and user application-to-wireless network connectivity? How will user access be controlled? How will performance, responsiveness and user experience be ensured? How will security, performance, responsiveness and other service delivery issues be scaled? What happens when a connected product loses connection to the Internet? Who is responsible for IoT-related support issues that end users encounter?
A good IoT platform will provide answers to all these questions, and more, by taking a comprehensive, integrated approach to all aspects of IoT connectivity. IoT platform technology must seamlessly span from connected product to cloud to the mobile or web-based app used to control the connected product. Then, it must enable manufacturers to take the data generated by the connected products—about how customers actually use the products, and how the products perform in the field—and turn it into actionable business intelligence.
A total solution. IoT building blocks are just that: building blocks. For those manufacturers with the right engineering resources, these building blocks can help make it easier for them to create connected products directly. But for the vast majority of manufacturers, assembling their own end-to-end IoT solution from building blocks would require either that they partner with a systems integrator (SI) or become their own SI. Either way, it would be very expensive, resource-intensive and time-consuming.
Taking full advantage of IoT connectivity. Unlike consumer electronics products, IoT-connected products tend to stay in place for years, even decades. Think of how often it’s necessary to replace a washing machine, thermostat, door lock or furnace. When these products become connected products, it means redefining the very nature of “products.”
Over time, 100 percent of end users of connected products will require firmware updates, and 90 percent will need remote diagnostics at some point in the connected product’s lifetime. In addition, all manufacturers will want the ability to provide upgrades, add new functionality and diagnose issues with their connected products while the products are in place, and without sending a service technician.
Over-the-air (OTA) communications enable manufacturers to deliver things like firmware updates and new functionality without physically contacting their connected products. Remote diagnostics permits communication in the opposite direction—from the connected products to the manufacturer—to prevent or significantly reduce the need for service calls. Because these capabilities lie at the heart of the advantages of connected vs. traditional products, they must be included in any IoT platform.
Singular focus on the “things” of the IoT. Companies offering computing, communications or cloud infrastructure specialize in the “Internet” portion of the IoT; the IoT platform’s domain is the “Things” of the IoT. People often compare the development of the IoT to technologies such as personal computers or mobile devices, but the comparison doesn’t hold up. That’s because while computers, smartphones and tablets are designed with connectivity in mind, furnaces and water faucets and refrigerators and coffee makers and light switches and tractors—all the things of the IoT—have vastly different ways to connect, require different networking protocols, have different purposes and will generate different kinds of data.
What’s more, the differences among these wide-ranging connected products won’t somehow disappear or diminish over time. A door lock will always have different connectivity parameters than a washing machine. The world of the “things” is complicated and messy and difficult. Understanding this world deeply—and translating that understanding into IoT platform technology that puts all the pieces together—is crucial to the ultimate success of any IoT-connected product.
A comprehensive, carefully designed IoT platform offers product manufacturers a compelling buy-versus-build argument: Instead of spending their time and resources—and hiring or purchasing the expertise—to build, manage, upgrade and maintain IoT connectivity technologies from scratch, manufacturers can leverage a fully baked IoT platform and remain focused on their core business expertise.
AWS and other large infrastructure providers offer a similarly strong buy-versus-build argument for IoT platform providers. An expanded range of IoT building blocks allows IoT platform makers to raise the level of their platforms, while remaining focused on core improvements to the platforms.
The very largest manufacturers—those with teams of 50 or 100 engineers skilled in all aspects of the IoT—might be able to directly use technology building blocks such as those from AWS.
But for the vast majority of manufacturers—having little to no experience in building, deploying and maintaining connected products—IoT platforms make more sense. By using an end-to-end IoT platform, manufacturers can more easily and cost-effectively turn their products into successful connected products—knowing that their connected products are secure, high-performing, reliable and able to leverage the full range of capabilities and building blocks offered by infrastructure providers. And without the manufacturers having to hire or become systems integrators.
David Friedman is CEO and a founder of Ayla Networks in Sunnyvale, Calif. Contact him at [email protected] .
Edited by Ken Briodagh