By Andrew Bickley, Arrow Electronics
A great deal has been written about The Internet of Things (IoT), how it will revolutionise people’s lives and how previously inanimate objects are going to be given a level of ‘intelligence’ that will allow them to be operated, monitored and controlled remotely and efficiently.
The latest figures suggest that by 2020 there will be 50 billion devices connected across the globe, with over 30bn of these connected wirelessly via the Internet.
However, the reality is that many companies and organisations – while fully aware of the benefits the IoT can bring and keen to reap those benefits and not be left behind in this technological revolution – do not know how any of this will work in practice.
How do they make sure that the devices they want to connect will do so seamlessly? How do they know that their existing systems will be able to communicate with each other without major integration problems? How do they make sure that the new systems they will have in place will be reliable, flexible, secure and capable of being upgraded, updated and repaired with relative ease if necessary?
The building blocks of the IoT have been in existence for some time. Various stakeholders have possessed some degree of knowledge or been able to offer entry-level sensor-based products or high-level integration solutions or expertise in cloud-based infrastructures.
However, the real challenge is to bring all of these elements together in a genuinely seamless fashion so that full integration is realised and a reliable, robust IoT system is operational. It’s time for the theorising to stop – it’s time to make the IoT work.
The problem, of course, is the confusing number and types of technologies and choices that are involved – from edge to enterprise. No one user can be expected to have sufficient expertise or even working knowledge of them all.
So it is essential to work with authoritative partners that bring together the correct technologies, infrastructure and services that will develop and deploy reliable and scalable IoT solutions.
Some users will want to develop their own solutions so that they can be customised to meet their own specific requirements and upgraded with ease. Other users may have a large percentage of their IoT platform infrastructure already in place and just be looking for a partner who can help them scale or integrate new devices and services.
Whatever the stage of the journey that the customer/user finds themselves on, the absolutely essential requirements are that the IoT solution they end up with is secure, scalable, flexible, open to development and capable of achieving optimal device management 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The tens of thousands of devices that will be connected on a network will all need to coexist in a secure operating system.
Of course, the challenge facing IoT developers is not just how devices connect, how they get online and how they are scaled to become a large network, the crucial test when operating at the volumes that will come with IoT deployment is how can it be guaranteed that all the relevant updates to all the different devices on all the different platforms happen at the right time.
Many companies have grown by acquisition and have many different IT strategies that have to be harmonised. So creating an IoT solution can involve having to interface with many different legacy and new platforms and systems. Clearly, if updates and operational processes across these different platforms are not synchronised there is a very real danger of the overall system malfunctioning and – depending on the application – this could range from frustrating to potentially business critical.
One size cannot fit all
A great deal is written about customisation and this makes sense since it is impossible for one type of solution to fit everyone’s requirements. The problem with bespoke systems, however, is that they can be extremely costly to design and implement and running and maintaining them can require specialised services.
Because the IoT will be interfacing with a broad range of devices across multiple applications industries and countries, a platform approach is required.
In addition to a platform approach, the key issue affecting everyone and everything operating via the IoT will be security. As edge node connections increase in their billions, the opportunity to be hacked becomes a serious threat. Authentication, encryption, transport layer security, secure boot, secure storage and tamper detect become critical architectural design parameters.
Things Evolved and Arrow Connect
When Arrow developed its Things Evolved IoT platform complemented with Arrow Connect software, it was designed with security, scale, flexibility, device management, open APIs and extensibility as core elements within it. It was intended to be capable of bridging any device to any data platform, enabling a user to select the right hardware and the right data platform for their application so everything could connect seamlessly. And it was designed to evolve as the customer/user evolves and their business needs change, with minimal development effort from the user as they upgrade features and services, add new hardware, or expand their cloud platform usage.
The design rationale around Things Evolved was that the user should be able to manage, monitor, control and even update devices from a single platform. In addition to having full control of all edge devices, the system is designed to alert, alarm and take action based on a user-defined set of business rules. For developers, Arrow Connect’s certified solutions enable them to create whatever they need as quickly and easily as possible, bringing their own complete solutions to market rapidly and with minimum effort and cost.
What has made Things Evolved and Arrow Connect possible has been Arrow’s development over the years into a leading technology company by leveraging its core competences in electronic components, hardware and software system integration and enterprise computing. With key competencies spanning technologies such as sensors, low-power microcontrollers, wireless connectivity systems, network protocols, gateways, operating systems, secure storage, security software and big data platform management systems and cloud solutions, Arrow can really deliver solutions that solve today’s and future business challenges.
The IoT has grown so much in the last five years that it has become essential for large-scale IoT providers like Arrow to work with a range of strategic partners in order to bring systems to market much faster than would otherwise be possible. In particular, the company has forged strong relationships with its technology supply partners so that Arrow Connect is easily combined and embedded with their technologies to create holistic IoT user value.
This integration of industry-leading solutions into a reliable, robust and secure system addressing the breadth of IoT use cases and business challenges is a complex equation to solve. Things Evolved and Arrow Connect is the bringing together of design tools, hardware, wireless connectivity, sensors, computer boards, software, gateways, infrastructure platforms, and public, private and hybrid cloud services. This platform combination of industry leading solutions is the only way that a true IoT will be able to exist.
With the Internet of Things, there is the obvious issue of connecting devices via the internet to a cloud based system so the devices can be managed. But there is so much more involved. Users need to think about security, whether hardware or software, the ability to manage data into the data platform of choice, data storage, data visualisation, and to do all this on a massive scale with extremely high levels of management, security and longevity.
This is an aspect that is underestimated by many who are looking to operate in the new connected world. And it is obvious that when developing and creating solutions, users and developers will have different competencies, different levels of expertise; they may want to outsource or be hands on, fully in charge. They may want to develop custom applications and tailor systems to their needs or want a single supplier to provide a true end-to-end IoT experience, from design through to analytics, 24/7 managed services in a global fashion.
The overall management of IoT devices is a key element of IoT and Arrow is now recognised by technology companies designing edge nodes or IoT gateways as providing a value that can be integrated and made available to customers. Seamless integration is always the goal but on top of that we should be aiming for a genuine plug-and-play environment for IoT solutions. To achieve this, Arrow already offers a number of pre-certified hardware and software development kits.
Whether the developers or users are technologically competent or at the beginning of their IoT experience and journey, Arrow’s Things Evolved allows customers to benefit from proven solutions that can seamlessly integrate and solve the ultimate IoT business challenge.