Thursday, December 8, 2022

15 Things To Remember While Selecting An IoT Platform

By Aaryaa Padhyegurjar

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How to compare the IoT platforms available in the market and select the right platform? Let us take a look at some of the platforms available in the market and their features and see the selection guide presented in this article.

Around 2015, there were 260 IoT platforms in the market. In just one year, the number rose to 360! By 2017, there were 450 IoT platforms and today, there are over 600. This exponential growth in the number of IoT platforms proves that IoT has already become mainstream.

But this large number can lead to a lot of confusion when it comes to selecting the right platform for a particular business. There are so many factors that need to be considered and assessed. One needs to keep in mind at least the following 15 things while selecting an IoT platform.

Popular IoT protocols (Credit: Hashstudioz)
Popular IoT protocols (Credit: Hashstudioz)

1. Vendor/parent company

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You need to ensure that the platform you are choosing comes from a reliable and credible vendor—one that has been in the market for a considerable amount of time. You can try checking out other products from the same vendor and see if they have a good life expectancy in the market. You can consider looking at clients and customers of the vendor as well, especially those who have invested in the same platform as you are planning to. Trust is a key factor in the IoT platform market—you are trusting a platform with your data after all.

2. Scalability

A scalable system is a stable system. Over time, businesses grow, expand and sometimes even pivot. Your IoT platform must be scalable enough and should accommodate all these changes—especially the large influx of data as a company matures in the market. To make your selection process easier, check how the IoT platform has grown from the time it was launched. Did it compete with the changing technologies? Has it adopted newer protocols?

3. Protocol support

Does your IoT platform support the data protocols, device protocols, or communication protocols that your development team is accustomed to? For example, if you, a decision-maker, select a platform that does not support general data formats, your developers will have to spend time to get used to the format that the platform does support. Hence, select a platform that caters to your development needs, and not vice versa.

Table 1
IoT Platforms Focused on Connectivity
Details Cisco IoT Control Center EMnify Vodafone IoT
Type SaaS solution SaaS solution SaaS solution
Account Types 2 – Essential (Simple IoT) and Advantage (Complex IoT). Pricing, features, and services differ in each type. EMnify has a single plan type but has two types of coverage options — Basic and Extended N/A
API Support Available Available Available
Visualisation The Control Centre is an environment for real-time evaluation, testing, and deployment Dashboard Dashboard, Web interface
Services Data (GPRS, LTE, NB-IoT, 5G NSA, 5G SA), SMS, Voice Data (2G, 3G, 4G, LTE-M, NB-IoT), SMS, USSD LTE, LPWA Technologies, 4G, 5G, NB-IoT, SMS, Voice
Pricing Multiple pricing plans are available – monthly fixed pool, monthly flexible pool, prepaid and monthly individual. Pricing depends on the account type Pricing varies based on the number of active SIMS and device consumption. They have a pay-as-you-go option as well as an inclusive volume option Outcome-based pricing depending on your solution.
Additional Features Multiple add-on packages that enterprises can subscribe to as their needs evolve Automated integration into cloud (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) Vodafone Business App-Invent: This is an Application-as-a-Service solution that helps companies create IoT apps quickly and cost-effectively.
Getting Started Cisco provides a Starter Kit, making it easier to launch your connected device services The company provides a free trial as well as a Factory Test Mode for pre-deployment connectivity testing. N/A (Contact Vodafone IoT to obtain onboarding details)
Website https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/internet-of-things/iot-control-center.html https://www.emnify.com/ https://www.vodafone.com/business/iot/managed-iot-connectivity/iot-platform

4. Customer support

Another important parameter to consider is whether your platform comes with the necessary support for your application. Also, if you do not have cloud engineers in your team, you can consider a vendor that provides in-person support in setting up your platform. Certain platforms cater to only software and cloud needs. In such a scenario, if your application is more hardware-centric, you will end up doing a lot of work yourself.

5. User-friendliness

A complex platform that is not easy to use involves a learning curve even for IoT professionals. But it does not make sense to spend time learning the platform instead of working on the solution itself. As a decision-maker, you need to consider the user-friendliness of the platform—whether the platform offers dashboards, graphs, and reports.

Young IoT platforms may not have user-friendly user interface (UI) as the developers are more concerned with connectivity, data security, and other issues. Before selecting, you can try using the trial version of the platforms you shortlisted, just to check if these are flexible and user-friendly.

6. Developer-friendliness

Does the platform connect easily with your existing systems, including the IoT hardware? Does it provide a good test and development environment? Does it use open source technologies that your developers might already be aware of? Perhaps the most critical feature of any IoT platform is how easy it is for developers to use.

You need to ensure that the platform supports integrations like RTOS and SDKs in various programming languages, and API support. Many platforms provide custom APIs during the implementation phase, which makes it easy for developers to get started.

Bandwidth vs range of connection protocols (Credit: The Things Network)
Bandwidth vs range of connection protocols (Credit: The Things Network)

7. Disaster recovery and downtime

In any application, it is only natural for technical problems to occur. What matters is how the parent company deals with such problems, and how long its recovery takes. While selecting an IoT platform for your application, you need to make sure that the platform provides the necessary infrastructure to handle such occurrences without any data loss. Check if the company provides a backup solution for your data, either locally or on cloud.

8. Updates and upgrades

Although it is mainstream, IoT can still be called a relatively new technology. Your needs might change, your company might grow. So, does your IoT platform support such updates in your company’s infrastructure? Does it support the newer versions of IoT protocols? Does it provide facilities to update your firmware over-the-air? If yes, are these facilities in your budget? These are important questions that you need to ask before taking any decision and selecting an IoT platform.

9. Device management

IoT device management is significantly crucial because all your devices need to be secure and connected for your system to function properly. Ideally, the IoT platform should enable you to register a device easily, provide means to delete or update it, provide its status updates, and notify you if it gets disconnected from the system or malfunctions. All of this needs to be done in real time.

Moreover, the platform should enable you to remotely control your devices over the internet. It should support a wide variety of devices and should have a good mechanism to sort them into types. It should also have low latency even if the number of devices increases and should easily allow bidirectional communication between devices and the cloud.

Table 2
IoT Platforms Focused on Device Management and AI
Details C3 AI Particle IoT Platform Kaa IoT Platform
Type SaaS solution PaaS solution PaaS solution
Integrations Its architecture is scalable with cloud services like AWS Cloud It can integrate with GCP, Azure IoT Hub, IFTTT, QuestDB REST API, WebSockets, Data Analytics, Business tools like SAP, Salesforce
API Support REST APIs, Customisable API integration REST API REST API
Features • Data Query & Analysis
• Data Integration
• Data Abstraction
• Machine Learning
• Application Management
• Application Logic
• Application Deployment
• Operations Workflow Management
• Edge-to-Cloud Stack
• IoT Device Management
• Data Pipeline
• IoT Hardware and Tracking
• Handle millions of devices
• Ease of use
• Third-party integration
• Data security
• Multicloud architecture
Noteworthy Characteristics Users can select from a set of pre-built applications. The C3.ai platform also provides a development environment for building custom IoT applications Particle supports Over-The-Air (OTA) firmware updates. Also, the program structure for Particle is built with Arduino compatibility. It is a completely open source solution
Interface Web based, Desktop Web IDE, Desktop IDE(Dev) and a CLI (Command Line Interface) N/A
Visualisation Reports‚ dashboards‚ visualisations‚ and actionable insights Dashboard, Google Maps Built-in Dashboard or third-party tools like Grafana. Users can stream data from IoT devices to any data analytics system via the pre-integrated Kafka channel.
Pricing Depends on features selected, Quote-based Three pricing levels: Enterprise, Starter, Tracking Multiple plans are available, depending on hosting and number of devices
Website https://c3.ai/c3-ai-suite/ https://www.particle.io/what-is-particle/ https://www.kaaiot.com/

10. Data handling

The data that you receive from your IoT hardware needs to be properly stored and analysed. This becomes challenging as more and more devices are introduced into the system and the volume of data increases. While selecting a platform, try to find out how your vendor handles data from your system. Keep in mind that, at times, the pricing model heavily depends on the data. Also, make sure to be well informed about data ownership rights and regulations.

11. Security features

While selecting an IoT platform, one must choose a platform with good security solutions. You should also check if the vendor has the latest security certifications and compliances, like SoC 2 Type II, which is a report that captures how a company safeguards customer data. It would also be wise to check the encryption protocols that are being used along with a thorough inspection of how the vendor’s privacy laws might affect your company in the future.

12. Edge support

IoT is moving towards edge computing, AI, and ML. Hence, the support for such features is important, even if your solution does not employ them at this point in time. There are many platforms in the market that are dedicated to analytics and edge intelligence, but even if your selected platform is not one of them, it is a good sign if they still accommodate new topologies and utilise edge intelligence.

13. Bandwidth and range

High bandwidth means low latency. For fast movement of data and good connectivity, the system should consume extremely little power, have a huge range, and should be able to transmit a large volume of data. Hence, bandwidth management for IoT devices should not be overlooked. At the same time, the system should have a good enough range to accommodate your hardware—there will always be a tradeoff.

14. Time-to-market and platform migration

To reduce time-to-market, some IoT platform providers offer quick-start packages for new customers, and some offer drag-and-drop functionality to generate simple applications. Overall, the IoT platform you select must allow you to go to market in your projected timeline. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that you need to change your platform after going to market, the transition needs to be smooth, and your initial platform needs to permit this migration in a hassle-free manner.

15. Pricing model

This is one of the most important considerations. Most IoT platforms provide multiple pricing options depending on features, similar to how Gmail provides services to enterprises. But some might try to sneak in some additional costs that you might overlook while selecting! Some IoT platforms might charge according to the number of reads and writes; so it becomes costlier as your company grows! Also, you can try to check if the company is flexible enough to accommodate your needs and modify the pricing accordingly.

Comparison of some IoT platforms

Let us take a look at a few IoT platforms and compare their features and pricing as given in Table 1 to 3.

Table 3
The Big 5
Details AWS IoT Microsoft Azure IoT Google Cloud IoT IBM Watson IoT Oracle IoT
Security Link Encryption (TLS), Authentication (Sig V4, X.509) Link Encryption (SSL/TSL) SSL/TLS Link Encryption (TLS), Authentication (IBM cloud SSO), Identity Management (LDAP) REST API
Data analytics Real-Time analytics (Rule engine, Kinesis, AWS Lambda) Real-Time analytics Real-Time analytics (Cloud IoT Core) Real-Time analytics (IBM IoT Real-Time insights) Real-Time analytics
Data format JSON JSON JSON JSON, CSV CSV. REST API
Application Environment Java, C, NodeJs, Javascript, Python, SDK for Arduino, iOS, Android .Net, UWP, Java, C, NodeJS. Ruby, Android, iOS Go, Java, Python, .NET, NodeJS C, Python, Java, NodeJS Java, iOS, Javascript, C, Android
Protocols MQTT, HTTP1.1 MQTT, HTTP, AMQP MQTT MQTT, HTTPS MQTT. HTTP
Visualisation AWS IoT dashboard Web Dashboard Google data studio (Dashboard) Web Dashboard Web Dashboard
Edge Computing Options AWS Greengrass IoT Edge Google Edge TPU IBM Edge Application Manager Oracle Roving Edge
Pricing AWS allows you to pay for the services you use. You can calculate your pricing using the AWS Pricing Calculator. A free version, basic version, and a standard version are available. Pricing varies for each. Cloud IoT Core is priced according to the data volume used in a calendar month. Three plans are available, depending on the service selected: Connection, Analytics, or Blockchain. Oracle offers uniform pricing across all global regions and also provides a cost estimator similar to AWS.
Website https://aws.amazon.com/iot-core/?nc=sn&loc=0 https://azure.microsoft.com/en-in/services/iot-hub https://cloud.google.com/solutions/iot https://internetofthings.ibmcloud.com https://www.oracle.com/in/internet-of-things

Once all relevant platforms are analysed according to the fifteen points mentioned above, you will be able to decide which one suits your application the best.

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