Networking is at the heart of every Internet of Things deployment, connecting sensors and other "Things" to the apps that interpret the data or take action.
But these are still early days. Assembling an IoT network from commercial off-the-shelf components is still, let's just say, a work in progress. This will change over time, but for now the technical immaturity is being addressed by System Integrators building custom code to connect disparate parts and by a new class of network meta-product known as the IoT Platform.
IoT Platform products are still in their infancy, but there are already more than 20 on the market today. Approaches vary, so when making a build or buy decision, consider these critical areas of IoT Platform tech: security, sensor compatibility, analytics compatibility, APIs and standards.
To see where we stand on developments in these areas, I emailed experts from seven IoT Platform companies, big and small, asking for input: Roberto De La Mora, Sr. Director at Cisco, Steve Jennis, SVP at PrismTech, Bryan Kester, CEO at SeeControl, Lothar Schubert, Platform Marketing leader, GE Software, Niall Murphy, Founder & CEO at EVRYTHNG, Alan Tait, Technical Manager at Stream Technologies and Raj Vaswani, CTO and Co-Founder, Silver Spring Networks. Here's what they had to say:
De La Mora: Security technologies and solutions that are omnipresent in IT networks can be adapted (carefully) to serve Operational Technology in IoT environments. But security is not about adding firewalls or IPS/IDS systems here and there. Cyber Security for IoT should follow a model applied at every layer of the architecture, and be combined with physical security to add intelligence to the operation via data correlation and analytics.
Jennis: Without a standards-based security framework it is very difficult to create communication channels that are both secure and interoperable. An interoperable security solution is very important in order to prevent vendor lock-in and to enable the system to be extended if required.
Kester: Sophisticated customers are encrypting traffic between the sensor board and the cloud. However most deployments are using private VPNs which don't require a lot precious CPU or RAM from the remote device/system.
Murphy: Crypto-secure digital identities for physical things enable authenticated identities online by applying token-based security methods through Web standards to manage application access to these digital identities.
Vaswani: Embed security at each layer of the network, including sophisticated authentication and authorization techniques for all intelligent endpoints, require digital signatures and private keys to prevent any unauthorized access or activity on the system, and end-to-end encryption for all communications across the network. Incorporating physical tamper detection and resistance technologies further reduces the risk of unauthorized access and monitoring.
* Sensor Compatibility
Jennis: The following Platform considerations should be taken into account:
· Memory footprint -- how much memory does the Platform require to function? Some simple sensors have only 128KB of memory to work with.
· Operating system support -- does the Platform require a full POSIX-like OS or can it accept something simpler?
· Network stack support, e.g. IPv4, IPv6, 6LoWPAN, other -- simple sensors used in Low Power Wireless Area Networks (LoWPAN) may require a cut down IP stack.
· Programming language support -- a Platform may provide APIs for only specific programming languages (e.g. C or C++).
· Java dependence -- does the Platform require a JVM to function, limiting sensor choices?
Murphy: The most important consideration is recognizing the risks inherent in vertically integrated solution architectures. By definition, the Internet of Things is heterogeneous in the types of things it is connecting. A horizontal architecture, to manage the information from and about the things they are connecting, can abstract the transport layer from the application layer. This allows applications to be developed independently of specific sensor devices, and sensor devices to be changed and network connectivity methods changed without breaking the application dependencies.
Schubert: A Software-Defined Machine (SDM) decouples software from the underlying hardware, making machines directly programmable through machine apps and allows connecting with virtually "any" machine and edge device, including retrofitting machines and connections to legacy systems.
* Analytics Compatibility
De La Mora: Support for structured and non-structured data, ease of integration with existing operation, automation and control systems, and the ability to operate in a distributed computing environment are all important factors for analytic compatibility.
Kester: To do advanced long-term business intelligence, machine learning or Hadoop-type of parallel processing, your Platform choice should have a well-documented and Web accessible API to interface with your analytic product of choice. It should also be easy for any IT employee, or even savvy business analysts, to use without training.
Murphy: The network platform has to enable multiple disparate audiences within a company access to benefit from data collection and perform meaningful analysis. Analytics is often thought of in a reporting sense only, but increasingly analytics is being applied in conjunction with machine learning algorithms and rules logic to drive applications and actuate devices.
Tait: You need to be sure the information you are collecting is stored well (backed up, secure, etc.) and that you have the ability to export your data and you maintain ownership.
Schubert: The tremendous data growth in industrial IoT demands massively scalable, low-cost infrastructure, such as that based on Apache Hadoop v2 and COTS (commercial off-the shelf) hardware. It has to support the various security, compliance and data privacy mandates. Predictive Analytics is how value is delivered to customers. It provides timely foresight into asset and operations, and provides actionable recommendations (when paired with rule engines). Perhaps most important, analytics need to be integrated into the operational processes, rather than be a stand-alone IT solution.
De La Mora: RESTful API's are becoming standard. The abstraction capabilities they provide, along with the architectural model based on the Web, are key. SDK's that provide API's that are not compatible with the W3C TAG group are a nonstarter for applications that should be in the end, connected to the Internet.
Jennis: First and foremost, APIs should be clean, type-safe and idiomatic. In addition, APIs should favor non-blocking/asynchronous interaction models to make it easier to build responsive systems. Where possible APIs should be standardized to ease component integration and prevent lock-in.
Murphy: APIs should use Web standards and blueprints (e.g. REST and no WSDL/SOAP), and state-of-art Web security systems. They should also offer ways of extracting the data, not just feeding it in.
Tait: Keep it simple, truly good APIs are clear, concise and have a purpose. They should also do the common things easily.
Schubert: Service-oriented architectures (SOA) and related application development paradigms rely on APIs for integration of services, processes and systems. APIs must be open, accessible and upgrade-compatible.
De La Mora: We are calling this the Internet of Things because it will be part of the next generation of the Internet, so the only key standard protocol, that I see in the future, is IPv6.
Kester: Any Platform that is in communication with devices should support the major communication protocols in use today, which are UDP, MQTT, XMPP, CoAP, Modbus/TCP and HTTP.
Murphy: RESTful application programming interfaces, JSON and similar Web-centric formats for data exchange should be used. The Platform that an enterprise uses to manage its physical products and assets as digital assets, needs to be able to integrate smoothly with both the enterprise's other systems and third party applications. Integration means both the technical protocols of system-to-system interaction (e.g. REST, OAuth) but also critically, the semantics of the information itself.
Vaswani: The use of universal standards such as IP ensures that products can be easily mixed and matched from different vendors to ensure full interoperability and to deliver on other applications supported by an even broader ecosystem of hardware and software players.
Get more from our experts in the roundtable discussion, "Top 5 issues in IoT Platforms Today," at the gogoNET LIVE! IoT technical conference November 19, 2014. Details about the conference are online at http://gogonetlive.com or visit http://www.iot-inc.com where we dissect the business model and cost structure of IoT Platforms.