A Complete Guide to IoT Platforms
A guide to IoT platforms, from consumer to industrial to enterprise.
What is an IoT Platform? An IoT platform provides a number of ready built elements that enable hardware manufacturers to connect their devices to the internet. Having said that, an IoT Platform comes in many flavors. This Guide helps demystify an otherwise crowded market. Note there were no less than 450 organizations advertising their version of an IoT Platform in 2017.
This guide covers:
- What is an IoT Platform?
- What is the Difference Between Industrial vs. Consumer vs. Enterprise IoT Platforms?
- What is the Difference Between IoT Infrastructure and an IoT Solution?
- IoT Aggregation vs. IoT Enablement?
- What is the Difference Between a Cloud-Platform vs. an Edge-Platform?
- A Guide to Building Connected Devices
- What is an IoT Gateway?
- Build vs. Buy Your IoT Platform?
- The Yonomi ThinCloud IoT Platform and Yonomi One App Platform
What Is An IoT Platform?
At the highest level, an IoT platform provides a number of ready built elements that enable hardware manufacturers to connect their devices to the internet. But if you’re looking for a solid example of the phrase “buzz term," look no further than "IoT Platform." Note that there were no less than 450 organizations advertising an “IoT Platform” in 2017.
As you can imagine, there are many flavors of "platform" and you could be forgiven if you landed on this page after a web search attempt to demystify one of the most widely-used technology concepts of the last couple of years. Such a search yields results from software and hardware providers offering everything from open source software SDKs and architecture design patterns to cloud-based IoT APIs and soldered hardware chipsets.
Depending on the reason for your search, any of the solutions might or might not be important for you - whether you’re building a connected device, want to take advantage of existing market devices or need to find ways to yield value from the oceans of data these devices are producing daily. But... how can a microchip and a cloud API address the same need? The answer is they don’t, and range of different solutions marketed as an ‘IoT Platform’ can be confusing even for veteran technologists.
Well, then, what is an IoT Platform?
As stated above, an IoT platform provides a number of ready built elements that enable hardware manufacturers to connect to their devices to the internet. Elements of an IoT platform can include:
- A gateway to the internet
- A mobile application that connects your device to consumers
- Cloud infrastructure so that you can, for example, remotely update the device’s software, supply fixes, request something from the device where you need a response, and of course the device will be gathering data, such as customer usage and/or sensor data that you will want to manage and store.
- Authentication, Management, APIs for Your Devices Users and implement Device Lifecycle management.
- Third party integration with services such as Google Home and Alexa.
All managed within a very secure environment.
To begin to parse out the differences, it's helpful to segment the market.
What's The Difference Between Industrial vs. Consumer vs. Enterprise IoT Platforms?
While all solutions need to scale, the business needs of Industrial versus Enterprise versus Consumer market segments are different enough to necessitate purpose-built solutions to address segment-specific needs. IoT Platforms are frequently built to support one of these 3 segments. Those that are not properly focused are almost certainly not optimized for any domain -- the “jack of all trades, master of none” conundrum. We've written extensively about the difference between Industrial vs. Consumer vs. Enterprise IoT Platforms here.
Hardware vs. Software
IoT is not a new concept; it evolved largely as business and industrial-focused solution to address quality-of-service and mission-critical compliance requirements for goods and services in the field through telemetry and measurement. IoT’s historical roots are well-established in embedded technology solutions that were purpose-built to support low/disparate-power environments and require asynchronous, event-driven communication networks, frequently designed in a device-based mesh to support wide area scenarios.
Much of the utility is derived from maximizing the processing power eked out of low-level chipset hardware and efficient, low-energy wireless protocols. Where power is ample in the field or network latency is likely, edge-compute is relegated. Many IoT solutions were born from these beginnings, and a vestige of the history is represented in these hardware-based solutions.
With the advent of modern, global and ubiquitous internet connections with high speeds like 5G and 802.11ac, along with new local communication protocols including ZigBee, Z-Wave and BLE, IoT has blossomed from a business problem into a worldwide mission to improve the everyday experience humans have with things. IoT platforms built more recently depend on these luxuries-turned-necessities of modern life, and leverage the cloud and the expectation that devices will more likely than not be serviceable at all times, while borrowing from some of the earlier models to gain the efficiencies and conveniences achieved with edge-computing and asynchronous communication.
What Is The Difference Between IoT Infrastructure and An IoT Solution?
As analogy, if you’re in the market for a home, you have options. You can find a real estate agent and buy a home that is on the market. Alternatively, you can architect and have one built to spec. ...A less-worn path is available - you could walk into your local Home Depot and buy everything you need to build your own. This is a perfectly reasonable option if you yourself, are the developer.
Applying the analogy to IoT options and your efforts will fall into the area of need for either an IoT Solution (Using an agent to find the perfect home) vs. IoT Infrastructure (building your own home).
IoT Platforms will fall into two categories - IoT Infrastructure vs. IoT Solution. Both can be considered platforms on which to build your own solution, but there are key differences. IoT Infrastructure represents the set of discrete low-level services that are required to produce an IoT Solution, including authorization services, certificate services, data storage services, queue services, compute services and analytics services as well as synchronous and asynchronous communication services. IoT Solutions are the end-state products produced and sold by vendors to offer the high-level IoT platform capabilities required to get production devices in the field.These services include device firmware and firmware management, standardized payloads and object definitions, device provisioning and commissioning capabilities, user account invitation management, notification services and integration with mobile notification systems. It may also include integration to 3rd party device platforms, routine/scene management, device discovery capabilities, user preferences models and multi-user management.IoT Infrastructure offerings like Amazon IoT may look similar to COTS IoT Solutions, but the effort to get to production is more significant with the former. Typically, IoT Solutions are built based on architecture patterns and leveraging the services made available from IoT Infrastructure providers, but the result for customers is the difference between building and maintaining your own complete IoT backend solution versus bringing a device and using it. In time and effort, the project timeline is easily a difference between weeks versus several months.
IoT Aggregation vs. IoT Enablement
Customers who buy your connected device will likely be buying someone else’s device as well. They may already have one of the more popular devices in the market like an Amazon Echo or Google Home or Sonos or Nest, or they may be going in for the first time. Nonetheless, by 2021 it is expected that there will be at least 13 devices per US home. Consumers are increasingly expecting these devices to play well together, whether it’s through a formal relationship between device providers or ‘by force’ using 3rd party smart home applications. While most of this post discusses IoT Platforms for enablement of a connected device, another type of Platform exists - IoT Smart Home Aggregation Platforms. These platforms offer the ability for application developers to leverage the capabilities of existing on-the-market devices to produce an end-to-end application. As an example, if you’re looking to build a solution using existing connected cameras, motion sensors and smart speakers - all without building your own devices or forcing prospective customers to purchase specific devices - an IoT Aggregation Platform provides this capability without requiring you to integrate the thousands of available connected devices with your app service on your own. Vertical solutions that benefit from such a platform include Home Security solutions, Age-in-Place solutions for the elder generation or Property and Rental Management Solutions where builders/property managers can offer orchestrated device-based services to tenants and owners.
What Is The Difference Between Cloud-Platform vs. Edge-Platform?
There are typically four interconnected components that make up any “IoT Platform”. A high-level solution architecture illustrates these interconnected solutions:
These four areas are fundamental to IoT, no matter the solution design and platform choice. Let’s focus on each and discuss where IoT Platform providers fit.
This is the end device provide sensing services, control services or both. A thermostat both senses temperature, reports that data and provides the ability to change setpoint to control HVAC or other climate systems. In some cases the end device can also be a gateway.
Some vendors - particularly hardware vendors - use the term IoT Platform to refer to the chipset they offer to support creating a connected gateway or connected end device. This can be confusing, but from the perspective of a hardware vendor it’s easy to see that without the chip and the software that enables it there would be no ‘platform’ on which to build the device telemetry and control capabilities. When evaluating any platform it’s important to ask them how they enable all 4 areas of a connected device solution, and where they don’t with who they partner.
This is typically what is referred to as the IoT Platform, and the subject of this post.
The user’s interface with their device or device services occurs through the Client UI - very often a mobile app or responsive application.
The term IoT Platform, while more regularly referring to the Cloud component of this architecture, is not infrequently used by vendors to describe any of these items individually or all of them together. Some organizations are offering all four solutions. Others are best-of-breed providers in one or more areas. Some offer proprietary, vendor-lock-in solutions and others support open, sometimes nebulous standards. Some are focused on telemetry and analytics, some focus on device control and some support both. Some are very well-suited to address Industrial IoT needs, others address commercial/B2B needs and some fit consumer/B2C requirements best. But regardless of the solution, it supports one or more of the solution areas above. The area of the value chain in which you’re business operates will determine which solutions are material for your endeavors.
A Guide To Building Connected Devices
Are you creating or rethinking your IoT and connected device strategy? There is a lot to consider. We get it. That’s why we’ve mapped out a hierarchy of needs for building connected devices—a framework to help you and your team get started.
Image 1.1: IoT Hierarchy of Needs
With a logical IoT framework in place, it’s easier to ask the right questions and cover all of your bases. You can download the complete guide here.
What Is An IoT Gateway?
An IoT gateway facilitates communication between IoT devices, sensors, equipment, systems and the cloud. Gateways provide connectivity to multiple “things” via Ethernet, WiFi, Zigbee or any combination of network technologies.
Smart IoT gateways also support edge computing and data analytics, as well play an important role in data security.
Many organizations also implement IoT device control and management and IoT protocol translation on gateways.
Build vs. Buy Your IoT Platform?
Should you build or buy your IoT platform? When designing, building and shipping connected products, there is a lot to consider. The cloud enables all sorts of experiences that were never possible with static, unconnected devices. On the flip side, connectivity to the Internet can mean risk and high support costs over the lifetime of the product, making the business case for connected devices potentially unfeasible… Find out more by reading the complete post on Build vs. Buy.
Yonomi ThinCloud IoT Platform and Yonomi One App Platform
What device makers inevitably find is that developing an IoT cloud platform is a difficult and dangerous undertaking—chock full of unanticipated expenses and challenges—often resulting in products that are late to market and expensive to support.
But these pitfalls can be avoided. Using the Yonomi ThinCloud Backend-as-a-Service (BaaS) can help achieve great cost savings by utilizing world class, proven technology for the low level device and user management services while still enabling you to add on the custom features that distinguish your product.
Yonomi One is the last mile of IoT connecting your customer to your product through an elegant mobile application. Yonomi One handles the complex tasks required to integrate with all the top smart home devices and platforms. With the SDKs and APIs provided by Yonomi, companies can integrate their apps and devices with more than 70 popular smart home products. Complex smart home features like automated Routines, preset scenes, voice assistant control, and remote access are all built-in to Yonomi One’s rich feature set.
Have more questions about IoT or our IoT Services? Contact Yonomi. We are here to help.