An Introduction to IoT Platforms
What is an IoT platform?
An Internet of Things (IoT) platform is an end-to-end software framework. Often called “middleware,” an IoT platform acts as a middleman that “sits between the layers of IoT devices and IoT gateways (and thus data) on one hand and applications, which it enables to build, on the other.”. Hence, IoT platforms are also called Application Enablement Platforms (AEPs)
Succinctly put, an IoT platform enables:
- IoT device and endpoint management
- Connectivity and network management
- Data management
- Processing and analysis
- Application development
- Access control
- Event processing
IoT platforms have become an essential part of the networking strategy for many industries. To make it happen, floor planning and IT equipment is provided by technology companies. According to IoT Analytics’ IoT Platforms Market Report 2021-2026, the IoT platform industry has a $5 billion market with a staggering annual growth rate of 48 percent between 2015 and 2020.
What are the critical components of an IoT platform?
IoT platforms are multi-layered; they simplify the centralization of different IoT devices and come with various services. The typical IoT platform includes the following IoT architecture:
- Connectivity: Solid, secure, and effortless incorporation of IoT devices in a network is paramount.
- IoT data management: Data management encompasses the extraction, logging, storage, processing, and analysis of various data types coming from many different locations.
- Cloud computing services: In commercial/business settings, large amounts of data need a cloud backend that provides service orchestration, reliable, secure, and streamlined data collection, storage, processing, and analytics.
- IoT device management: IoT device management covers the entire lifecycle of each device within one platform, such as device:
- Remote administration
- Device diagnostics
- Application development: Cutting edge IoT platforms provide the ability to code directly in a cloud Integrated development platform (IDE), and a few IoT platforms offer Over-the-air (OTA) development.
- IoT application enablement: This feature enables developers to build, integrate, and manage custom applications.
- Security: Most IoT platforms have high-quality, built-in security features that include:
- Data integrity
- Extra protection for specific data types
- Authorization mechanisms
- Privacy safeguards
- Operation on a variety of levels
What types of IoT platforms are on the market today?
Today’s IoT platform standard is to provide:
- Real-time intelligence
- Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication
- Built-in security
- Artificial intelligence (AI)
- Machine Learning (ML)
Most IoT platforms fall into one of these six major categories:
1) Connectivity Management IoT Platforms
This is the most basic type of IoT platform and has the following features:
- Connection management
- Invoicing management
- Connectivity between sensor and servers
- Management of data rates
2) Device Management IoT Platforms
Keeping track of a growing fleet of various IoT devices is a common worry for enterprise network professionals. IoT platforms that focus on device management provide the following:
- Device provisioning
- Device authentication
- Remote device monitoring and control
- Administration over the air
- Software updates
- Security patching
- Troubleshooting and more
3) End-to-End Analytics IoT Platforms
This IoT platform focuses on the understanding and mastery of massive amounts of data. The key capabilities of an IoT analytics platform involve:
- IoT data collection using compatible communication protocols
- Data processing (including transformation, modeling, and long-term data storage)
- Scalable data storage for both structured and unstructured data
- Big Data analytics to help identify patterns within the IoT data
- Customizable data reporting and visualization
4) Application Enablement IoT Platforms (AEP)
According to the expert enterprise data center, Network World:
An Application Enablement Platform (AEP) is a technology-centric offering optimized to deliver a best-of-breed, industry-agnostic, extensible middleware core for building a set of interconnected or independent IoT solutions for customers. An AEP links IoT devices and applications, delivering data to allow industrial enterprises to implement predictive maintenance, machine learning, factory automation, asset logistics, surveillance, and many other applications.”
Features of an AEP include:
- Rule engines
- Customizable data visualization
- The abstraction of the underlying infrastructure
5) IoT Development Platform
These development-focused platforms are designed to improve the developer experience by emphasizing community-building and collaboration and have the following capabilities:
- OTA application development in a cloud IDE
- Live development and deployment of IoT apps
- Integration with external repositories (e.g., GitHub and GitLab)
- Collaboration and community features
6) End-to-End IoT Platform
A recent article published by data science and IoT company, Record Evolution, describes an end-to-end IoT platform as follows:
This is a full-stack platform that consolidates and performs all services across the IoT value chain. Ideally, the end-to-end IoT platform is suitable for a variety of use cases and transcends industry borders. It should be robust enough to accommodate large-scale industrial IoT solutions. But it should also remain flexible and open to allow for third-party integrations and anticipate future developments.
Record Evolution goes on to list the many features of the end-to-end IoT platform:
- Advanced data analytics and ML
- Configuration and update management
- Data storage clusters and scalability
- Cloud app development studio
- IoT app reuse and duplication services
- IoT app store with ready-made IoT apps and app templates
- IoT device management
- Open application programming interface (API) to allow for further integrations
- Protocol and data structure interoperability
- Reports with data visualization and dashboard customization options
- Security by design
- User management with a highly granular authorization structure to enable IoT collaboration.
It is important to note that the differences between IoT platform types are not always clear-cut. There are lots of options and platform combinations—or you can also use more than one. Deciding what you need will take a bit of deliberation. You may even choose to build an IoT platform in-house. However, it is always prudent to research pre-built options; it could save you a lot of time and money.