Anytime something new makes a monumental splash, there are a host of products and services that pop up around the game-changer. These products and services provide support, infrastructure and, at times, new uses to throngs of users.
Right now, IoT (Internet of Things) is that game-changer and IoT platforms are an important part of the IoT industry. In fact, Markets and Markets, an online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal, shows that in 2015, global IoT hardware in retail will have a market size of $35.64 billion by 2020.
Types of IoT Platforms
Much of what defines the Internet of Things remains nebulous; definitions of support services, accessories and emerging industries are defined differently by the various players in the Internet of Things market. In our research, we have found that the most common definition of an IoT platform is “a cloud-based environment that enables IoT applications,” which could mean many things. To provide a little more depth to this definition, we will look at three different types of platforms that fall into this category.
- Connectivity/M2M Platforms: These platforms provide the connectivity aspect of an IoT application without branching into processing or storing data. Connections are most commonly made via big-brand telecommunications providers (AT&T, Verizon) or an MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).
- IaaS Backends: First developed for mobile and desktop applications, this arm of computing support is now shifting to IoT. IaaS backend platforms host IoT applications and provide much-needed processing power to crunch all of that valuable data.
- IoT development platform: These hardware-specific backends hardly meet the standard definitions because they are closed off to the rest of the development world. This proprietary software is built to run a specific device. For many watching the internet of things cloud platform revolution, creating a common software platform for connected devices is the next big milestone (much like iOS and Android were for the mobile market).
Building Blocks of Internet of Things Architecture
Moving on from our base definition of an IoT platform, let’s clearly define the building blocks of a comprehensive solution; one that wraps everything from connectivity to analytics into one neat package.
A full IoT structure is comprised of eight building blocks:
- External Interfaces: APIs, SDKs and gateways that provide an interface for 3rd party systems
- Analytics: the advanced algorithms used to make sense of collected data and promote machine learning
- Data Visualization: real-time graphical representations of the data collected by sensors
- Processing and Action Management: the power behind IFTTT, a rule engine that drives real-time actions based on data collected via sensors
- Device Management: allows for system management providing backend control of the device’s status and remote software deployment and updates
- Connectivity: MVNO or big-brand telecommunications providers – the “internet” part of IoT
- Database: a repository, usually cloud-based, that stores all of that valuable data
- Additional Tools: app prototyping, access management, reporting – all of the development tools that don’t fall into the other seven categories
How to Get into the IoT Platform Business
There are five basic ways to enter this growing industry and, already, we see large players traveling down each one of these roads.
- Build it Yourself (bottom-up): start with connectivity and build out the rest of the features
- Build it Yourself (top-down): start with analytics and move down the list completing the rest of the features
- Build Some, Join Some: for example, GE Predix recently joined with PTC’s Thingworx to create “brilliant factories” and end-to-end connected solutions that start in the design phase and follow the product into the field
- Merge or Buy: merge with a developer that has the technology; buy a company that expended all of their resources developing the platform – either way, you get your foot in the door
- Back it: there is no shortage of development teams that are working on IoT systems and are looking for investors
Benefits of Going Open Source
Many businesses and enterprises have managed to effectively restructure their systems while saving money by using a more adaptable and customizable open-source internet of things platforms.
If the internet of things ecosystem is to morph into IoE (Internet of Everything), as industry experts predict, we will need an open-source solution. Connected devices provide the most value when they work together. Remember your first “smartphone”; maybe you checked email and played Words with Friends, but aside from that, true interactive connectivity with the rest of the world was fairly low.
Now, our phones interact with our televisions and cable providers to act as universal remotes; they connect to our FitBit to give us real-time health data and even sync with our garage door openers and coffee makers. Our phones are infinitely more valuable as longtime players on iOS and Android platforms than they were before everyone else joined the party.
The same will happen to the Internet of Things, and there is a real push to make the winning platform open-source. Two of the major contenders are Kaa and Zephyr. Kaa is free and completely open. Its developers promote it as an open middleware platform for building end-to-end IoT solutions.
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