IoT cloud platforms: make the correct connections

27.09.2018 – Benedikt Ostermaier

Article for Netzwoche magazine, 27 September 2018

By adding networking capabilities to their devices, manufacturers expose themselves to a wealth of new challenges that often exceed the limits of their usual expertise. Ensuring reliable communication with hundreds of thousands of devices or supporting use by all manner of applications are by no means trivial demands. IoT cloud platforms can however promise support.

From electric cars to complex industrial facilities, and even the humble toothbrush – increasingly more objects in our everyday life are being connected to the internet and combined with cloud services to open up a wide array of new possible applications. Typically, devices in the field communicate with an IoT cloud platform via a secured connection. In contrast to application-specific solutions for connecting devices, IoT cloud platforms offer a range of functions that can be used regardless of the application. These include the ability to access to the most recent device data, as well as functions for managing and monitoring devices or archiving the data sent by them, and also options for controlling devices, including the application of firmware updates.

The IoT cloud platform is the connection and the interface...

The IoT cloud platform is the beating heart of an IoT ecosystem. As well as enabling the connection of devices, these platforms also provide an interface for importing production data, managing and monitoring devices, and connecting to business applications.

A clear line can be drawn between an IoT cloud platform and the applications in much the same way as for an operating system and its applications. A wide range of basic functions no longer need to be provided by the application developers. Instead, they are already addressed in the underlying platform. For instance, the standard repertoire of an IoT cloud platform includes security mechanisms to allow devices to be connected securely.

Manufacturers of smart devices can reap a wealth of benefits from the use of an IoT cloud platform. These include a reduction in the development costs and the time to market, enabling the device manufacturer to focus on the business-specific aspects of its solution that are where value is created. Outsourcing operations to a reliable cloud infrastructure carries with it the promise of greater availability, lower and more predictable costs, and better security. Connected devices, applications and other peripheral systems also benefit from the constant improvements to the IoT cloud platform. And last but not least, manufacturers can derive added value from the simplified mechanism for integrating third-party systems.

...and plays a central role

But the IoT cloud platform also has another central role to perform, since all communication from and to the devices passes through this system. For this reason, the service provider must have a solid support system in place to troubleshoot any problems during operation. For device manufacturers, using an IoT cloud platform also means entering into a long-term partnership with a third-party provider.

A wide array of IoT cloud platforms are now available on the market, with corporate groups, start-ups and open source projects all vying for a lucrative spot in the burgeoning IoT ecosystems of device manufacturers. Staying on top of this dynamic market is a challenge even for the experts. While future changes have to be possible from a technical standpoint, they may entail significant costs depending on the situation. An IoT cloud platform should therefore be chosen with great care in order avoid a rude awakening further down the line.