What Should a Good IoT Platform Have?
Always be mindful of the functions and features that are must-have or nice to have.
For every product, some functions and features are must-have or are nice to have. When we distinguish between the two, the selection becomes relatively simple. Building your own IoT platform makes much more sense. For any middleware platform to be worthy of being part of the Internet of Things, it is imperative that it has the following functionalities and capabilities.
Just like any new application or product, things start small and then grow later. Therefore, if the middleware platform must be at the core of the solution, it must be able to scale in the same proportion. It should not be a one-click change, which is okay; however, it should be reasonably easy to scale the platform without breaking existing functionalities and without disrupting existing production setup.
In general, it is an obvious expectation that anything that forms the core of a solution or product should be reliable. The level of redundancy built into the middleware slightly varies, depending on the end application, product, or industry vertical. For example, if the IoT platform is for medical devices, financial services, or security systems, the level of reliability expected is relatively high when compared to one for home appliances like a coffee machine or similar others.
If you are building your platform, it can be 100% customised; however, even if you were looking to buy off the shelf, customisation without breaking the bank should be possible. If you cannot customise the middleware, then you have to modify your product or service to be fit for the platform, which is mainly working in the reverse direction.
Supported protocols and interfaces
By fundamental definition, an IoT middleware platform sits between two heterogeneous systems: physical devices and cloud software (and there are umpteen numbers of device types and software). The platform should be able to coordinate with all of them, orchestrate things in unison, and speak all of the languages or protocols. Additionally, it needs the ability to create the required plugin and fill the gap whenever required, such that the middleware platform remains accommodating, for a very long time, before needing an overhaul.
The Internet of Things is essentially a group of different connected things, hardware devices, computer systems, and software. This makes the requirement of being hardware-agnostic almost palpable. The reason why it still needs to be explicitly stated is due to a slightly skewed view. Many people think of hardware as an electronic circuit for a sensor, and for that view, we say that an IoT platform should be agnostic of whatever electronics you are using in your circuit. Whether it is an open source hardware design, proprietary circuit, or a mix, the platform should be able to support it.
Similar to being hardware agnostic, the platform also needs to be cloud agnostic. There are several cloud service providers — including Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) — but the platform should have no dependency on the cloud. Whether it is your service or a third-party cloud running behind a NAS (network-attached storage), the platform should be able to work. A good test of compliance is an answer to the question of whether the platform works on bare-metal servers. That is if you get a virtual private server instance and install the platform, will it work? The answer should be a simple yes, which means the IoT platform is cloud-agnostic.
Architecture and technology stack
A well-defined architecture and the appropriate combination of the technology stack is a crucial thing that differentiates a good IoT platform from the others. The platform may be built on a slightly weird mix of technologies that are not known for working together nicely. Maybe the technology used is going to be deprecated in the next few years, especially during the operational time-span of your usage. If this is the case, you should stay away from it. The same goes for the architecture or the so-called “plumbing” of the middleware. If the architecture is not flexible enough for future changes, that is a red flag. An utterly fluid architecture is not a good fit either. You need the right combination of a fluid and a rigid architecture backed by a reliable, efficient technology stack.
Over the last several years, the Internet of Things has become a laughing stock, mainly due to poorly managed security aspects in far too many applications and IoT solutions. The saying, “The S in IoT stands for security,” has become commonplace and is a strong indication that security in a middleware platform is as important as it is in other aspects of the IoT ecosystem. Security becomes a vital consideration factor if you choose a multitenant platform. The multitenant element makes the system more vulnerable because your application may be just fine, but another application using the same platform (a co-tenant of your application) can create security problems for every other tenant; the risk is always present.
The budget set for an IoT platform has a relatively more substantial influence on cost factors; however, overall, if the cost of the platform, whether it was built in-house or bought off the shelf, does not justify the functionality and features, then it must be reviewed. In short, the platform should add enough value to justify its cost.
As much as ongoing support for platform management is essential, there is also support required for solution integration purposes. And as a mandatory requirement, the middleware platform should have strong support in the design, development, deployment, and management of the solution on an ongoing basis.
Finally, whatever platform you are evaluating, always be mindful of the functions and features that are must-have or nice to have. Focus on the ones that are important to your use case and scenario, and then make an appropriate choice.
Whether it is your life decision or business decision, your choice does not have to be the popular one but must be the right one!
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About the Author: I am an entrepreneur, business & technology advisor, a published author, futurist, and emerging technology expert. I help companies to improve critical metrics by finding significant problems and then solving them in innovative ways. Sane and sensible adoption of technology continues to be my area of focus.