In the Internet of Things (IoT), every piece of technology needs to work seamlessly with all the other pieces, creating an integrated, secure, end-to-end system. Making connected products for the IoT requires deep expertise and experience in every facet of IoT operation—from the chips embedded in the connected product, through cloud computing and networking communications, to end-user control of the product via a mobile or web-based application.
Cloud connectivity is the area where most traditional manufacturers are unlikely to have much in-house expertise. That’s because most products becoming part of the IoT were not originally envisioned as connected products, so they weren’t built with networking technologies in mind. For example, manufacturers of major home appliances such as washing machines and water heaters; HVAC products; or small appliances such as toasters and coffee makers have not traditionally designed networking technologies into their products.
To incorporate cloud connectivity, manufacturers need to master all the intricacies of networking technology, including:
- Network security. This complex area represents a specialized discipline of its own. Tight security must encompass both the connected product-to-cloud connection and the user application-to-wireless network connection. It must ensure that only authorized users can gain access to a particular connected device; that end users’ data can’t be accessed by unauthorized entities; that their data doesn’t go to another cloud; and that no one can hack into the user’s network. Manufacturers must be able to provide access control for end users; perform device and cloud authentication; build firewalls; establish an Internet Protocol (IP) stack; set up secure and fully encrypted sessions over a wireless local-area network (WLAN); and stay current on all the latest security standards.
- Networking protocols. The world of networking is filled with communications and security protocols. New ones arise, some lose favor over time, and most evolve. Manufacturers have to take responsibility for choosing the best protocols for their end customers’ situations and for keeping them up-to-date. In addition, manufacturers need to enable their products to work with products from other manufacturers, so that users have a cohesive, integrated connected home or connected health experience.
- Responsive performance. When a user initiates an action—such as turning a light on or off—the connected device needs to respond immediately. This requires a networking architecture that enables cloud communications to traverse the product’s firewall—but without allowing the firewall to stop providing protection for the user’s product. In other words, it means a cloud network connection that is both fast and secure, with low latency.
- Reliability and resilience. What happens to a connected product’s operation when the cloud connection is lost? Schedules and other instructions must be able to handle the Internet connection going down.
- Scalability. It’s one thing to offer security or performance for a handful of connected products, but what happens when manufacturers want to scale to thousands or millions of connected products? Networking, service delivery, and responsiveness issues become more complex at scale, particularly with respect to network security.
- Optimizing cloud service provider architecture. Different cloud service providers offer different services. It’s important that manufacturers know how to leverage their chosen cloud service provider’s infrastructure to operate and scale their connected devices efficiently and cost-effectively.
- Over-the-air (OTA) communications. One of the big advantages of connected products is that manufacturers can add new features, update firmware, and fix bugs to their products remotely, via OTA communications. But managing services in this way requires strong expertise in networking and networking security techniques and best practices.
- Data infrastructure. IoT products are typically on all the time, even when they’re not being adjusted or interacted with by end users. Potentially, the products are generating a constant stream of data. Manufacturers need to design their data infrastructure so that it can scale without drowning them in data; so that they can get enough but not too much data for their purposes; and so that they can organize the data they choose to collect and have a way to make sense of it.
- Ongoing operation and maintenance. In addition to network engineering expertise, manufacturers of IoT products also need to have highly skilled operations teams in place. For instance, who is called if the cloud infrastructure provider has a service outage? IoT products can easily be in place in users’ homes for 10 or more years. During that time, a manufacturer might introduce multiple new or upgraded models. A service infrastructure must support new models as they enter the market, as well as remain backward-compatible with all older models still in use.
How many manufacturers can count all these skills among their in-house capabilities—plus comparable skills in embedded engineering and sophisticated mobile application development? For the majority of manufacturers, amassing these capabilities would take a daunting amount of time, money and effort.
What’s the alternative? Choosing a comprehensive, end-to-end, secure IoT platform that’s already up and running..
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