We’re currently witnessing rapidly expanding product launches and sky-high elevated expectations from the emerging deployment of the Internet of Things in both personal and commercial domains. Stakeholders — ranging from hardware manufacturers and service providers to cloud platforms — are strongly weighing in to position their offerings in expectancy of windfall rewards from fast-tracked IoT adoption.
While vendors are in a mad rush, jockeying for a land-grab position, one thing is becoming increasingly clear — connected devices, apps and services, which collectively encompass the building blocks of IoT solutions, are in need of a dependable communication fabric for robust deployment.
Alas, the public Internet, as a global networking medium for IoT solutions, does not come with a service-level agreement (SLA). The Internet currently provides little in terms of quality of service (QoS) guarantees, namely potential, reliability, security and availability. It is that observation that implies the rather major question: Is the Internet ready for IoT?
Obstacles to IoT mass adoption
It is common practice today to ponder the challenges stacked against en masse adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). Just search “IoT Challenges” on Google, LinkedIn or similar platforms to discover the common themes perceived as obstacles. The Internet of Things is quite likely the biggest sweeping change that’s scheduled to infuse every area of our lives with always-connected experiences for generations to come. The question is consequently inevitable — are we ready for the information age equivalent of the industrial revolution?
We take for granted most things that serve us in everyday life, at least those of us living in the developed world. For example, we plug in toasters and turn on washing machines without being concerned that they malfunction, operate in a way that causes other appliances to malfunction or be subject to electric shocks, catch fire, external tampering, etc. We treat electric grid availability as a given power fabric that effortlessly enables convenience and automation in our lives.
The number of IoT platform vendors continues to relentlessly grow.
This admittedly simplified analogy begs the question — are we properly positioned to achieve similar nirvana with the IoT? Can the global public Internet be trusted to seamlessly support billions of plugged-in, always-connected devices while preventing harmful side effects, such as a spamming refrigerator, hacked cars and the usual dropped connections? Asked in a different way, can the Internet rise to the (IoT) occasion and deliver on its quality-of-service expectations?
Emergence of IoT platforms
From kickstarters and seed-funded startups to device manufacturing powerhouses, the pace of newly introduced gadgets or “things” is accelerating. The “T” in IoT is so far getting the bulk of the attention. However, as a sure sign of a maturing phase and putting IoT technology to use, the spotlight has been turning to the “I” in IoT, the Internet.
The first wave of the IoT platform category dealing with connecting “Things” has initially emerged from the long-established machine-to-machine (M2M) space. Larger vendors observing the emerging category were quick to snap up a few players in the nascent space to stake out their position (SmartThings, Axeda, ThingWorx, SeeControl and more).
The number of IoT platform vendors continues to relentlessly grow, a testament to the perceived need in the innumerable use cases comprising the IoT domain. The battle of the platforms is likely to continue (a speaker at a recent conference listed a 260 count for IoT platforms), while the large platform vendors introduce their own cloud-hosted offerings, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM, among others.
Taming connected environments
The majority of IoT platforms are, in essence, vertically integrated environments. These platforms are comprised of functional modules, which are designed to work in harmony out of the box. The platforms come bundled with connectivity layers utilizing a plethora of networking protocols, such as IP, mesh and a slew of newly-minted ones.
As proliferation of IoT continues to expand unabated across application domains and a wide range of industries, the conversation has been shifting to the practical aspects of implementation and deployment. In particular, connecting “everything” brought about an abundance of security risks, privacy concerns and ease of maintenance and upgrade safety challenges, for which answers are still being researched.
One of the biggest issues concerns interoperability, where devices made by different vendors are expected to seamlessly work with each other. Similarly, solutions are wanted for addressing the usability challenges whereby apps and gateways are expected to be able to control an environment comprising such a diverse set of devices. The interoperability conundrum is particularly evident in the case of product life cycles that come to an end; for example, the side effect of the Nest acquisition and subsequent shutdown of Revolv home automation service.
Building the connective tissue
As connected devices, apps and services are being implemented, IoT developers are becoming increasingly aware of the implementation challenges listed above. Designing smarter devices, apps and services is a necessary but simple partial step toward producing an overall acceptable solution. To further complicate the challenge, there is little that can be assumed about the myriad ways in which devices, apps and services are going to interact when they’re put together to form IoT products and solutions.
This unknown inevitably puts the weight on developers to account for the missing mechanisms and resort to making best-guess design decisions. The prospects for product and solution success in a diverse ecosystem, without being able to rely on a common connective tissue for IoT communication, are not optimal.
Developers have to make practical assumptions about the use cases and implementation scenarios in which the product they’re building will be part of. In other words, developers are tasked not only with implementing the product features, but also with implementing a secure, reliable and high-performance IoT communication fabric that can scale and take care of interoperability.
Written by Doron Sherman
Originally posted on techcrunch.com