As-a-service business offerings are changing business models with the Internet of Things. The one that started it all, SaaS, Software-as-a-Service, is now joined by IaaS and PaaS. Are these acronyms ringing any [service] bells?
What Do As-a-Service Offerings Provide?
Here is a quick look at the definitions for the “as-a-service” offerings.
IaaS provides virtual machines and/or storage. In such systems, the infrastructure, applications, system maintenance and backups are hosted by a third-party. IaaS customers pay on a per-user basis, typically by the hour, week or month. Some providers also charge customers based on the amount of virtual machine space they use. This pay-as-you-go model eliminates the capital expense of deploying in-house hardware and software. However, users should monitor their IaaS environments closely to avoid being charged for unauthorized services.
SaaS covers applications that provide a specific set of features and functionality. In such a system, the third party hosts the applications. SaaS removes the need for organizations to install and run applications on their own computers or in their data centers, eliminating the expense of hardware acquisition, provisioning and maintenance, as well as software licensing, installation and support.
PaaS covers the backend (servers, storage, backup) side of testing and launching an application. Here, a third party helps deliver your application using the internet. Usually, a business relies on PaaS providers for key services, such as Java development or application hosting. PaaS allows developers to frequently change or upgrade operating system features. It also helps development teams collaborate on projects.
These “as-a-service” offerings have one thing in common: they are all based in the cloud, solely managed by the provider, and available to clients via a membership platform.
Why Does PaaS Fit with IoT?
Data. Data. Data
So much of the IoT is about data. Data collection. Data storage. Data analysis. IoT applications require different configurations of data, and most of them are developed for multiple use case scenarios. PaaS provides developers with complete control over collected data without the burden of managing storage systems.
Data analysis requirements will change as the application sees wider adoption and developers learn more about how users are deploying the product in real-life. Smart developers plan for this eventuality by building products that include flexible components. PaaS allows developers to customize data analysis both now and in the future.
Pace and Competition
With predicted billions up for grabs, rest assured that competition in the IoT space is only going to continue to grow. Releasing products months and sometimes years ahead of pre-IoT project estimates requires development teams to reconsider which aspects of the stack need to be built in-house and which can be managed by someone else.
For many adopters, the primary draw to IoT solutions is automation. Instead of relying on the inspector to manually bring up the inspection requirements for a component, a device scans the barcode on the part and ensures that all of the requirements and data recording areas are automatically displayed to the inspector when the component arrives. Developing new workflows and optimizing existing ones is a driving force behind new releases of IoT applications. PaaS provides just the access needed to continue making these improvements.
Not only have our tools gone to the cloud, our teams have, too. Most development teams include members from various facility locations, both on- and off-site, and help from outsourcing firms. Teams are rarely co-located, making tools that are based in the cloud necessary to efficient team operations.
How Does IoT Affect Businesses?
Connected devices are changing the technology landscape. We subscribe instead of purchasing. The pace of technology growth led to a culture of obsolescence. By the time companies adopt and incorporate a new piece of software or infrastructure into their technology stack, a new version has already been released.
Gartner predicts that by the year 2020, the number of global connected devices, sensors, etc, will reach 20.4 billion. Greater China, North America and Western Europe comprise 64% of all of these connected devices, indicating the most advanced IT areas. Applications tailored to specific industry verticals (including manufacturing field devices, process sensors for electrical generating plants and real-time location devices for healthcare) will drive the use of connected things among businesses through 2017, with 1.6 billion units deployed.
However, from 2018 onwards, cross-industry devices, such as those targeted at smart buildings (including LED lighting, HVAC and physical security systems) will take the lead as connectivity is driven into higher-volume, lower cost devices. In 2020, cross-industry devices will reach 4.4 billion units, while vertical-specific devices will amount to 3.2 billion units.
Membership-based or “as-a-service” offerings do two things: first, they ensure that companies always have access to the latest features and services without the cost and headaches associated with incorporating new releases. Second, there is an economy-of-scale dynamic at work.
Developers of these services work on the offering every day. Building a feature or improving an existing one might take two or three dedicated developers working for weeks. The ROI for this investment, if the services are maintained in-house, simply isn’t there for most companies; however, service providers push this new feature to all of their customers, meaning that the benefits are experienced across the board.
IoT reliance on the cloud and the benefits of the “as-a-service” model has made companies re-examine their available tools in search of solutions that are as flexible, scalable and economical as their own products.
PaaS operates in the area between SaaS and IaaS, giving full control of the application and the data to the developer. The infrastructure (middleware, operating systems, virtualization, storage and networking) are unlikely to change during the development process of an IoT application. This is why it makes sense to leave those aspects to be managed by someone else (an IaaS provider).
One of the biggest examples of how the Internet of Things impacts business is Caterpillar’s Predictive Maintenance. The Marine Division of Caterpillar, in particular, serves fleet operators of shipping and tugboats. Caterpillar puts shipboard sensors to track every part of the ship’s machinery, such as fuel meters, air conditioning and engines. Data is then analyzed by the system that can notice a slight change in what is received from every single connected sensor.
At this point, when a slight change is noticed by the system, the maintenance team is able to perform a fix or change the parameters under which the machinery is operated even before this slight change can be noticed by the regular means. The sensors use different ways of gathering data, often using sonic systems. They notice the slightest change in the sound frequencies that machinery produces, which indicate abnormalities in the structure of the ship machinery.
Smart locks can give small businesses peace of mind and help their wallets by circumventing the need to hire security guards. To take this a step further, companies can purchase connected cameras to monitor their offices in real time. Another popular device is the mobile credit card reader that connects to smartphones and tablets. Square is the household name in this regard, famous for the Internet of Things in a business solution that uses the card reader to process transactions easily, from food trucks to flea markets.
More Sweeping Changes Are Yet to Come
According to Fabrizio Biscotti, Research Director at Gartner, “the PaaS segment showed impressive growth, not just in the AIM (application infrastructure and middleware) market but across the entire enterprise software market” in 2015. This growth points to the increased demand for IoT-supporting development tools, and continued growth is expected in this area. The Internet of Things business opportunities are becoming more and more widespread.