Openness and trust key to a scalable IoT future

In order to scale, Internet of Things networks need to have a more open and standardized approach.

Gartner predicts that by 2020, over half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the Internet of Things (IoT).

In the meantime, however, IoT has hit something of a wall. According to a Cisco survey of over 1800 companies that have launched IoT projects, 60% of initiatives stalled at the proof-of-concept stage. Of those that moved into the pilot stage, less than a quarter were considered ‘successful’ by the business.

“The main issue stalling large-scale IoT initiatives at the proof of concept stage is the bewildering complexity of the supply-side,” says Martin Garner, Senior Vice President at CCS Insight. “This complexity means that there is considerable commercial and technical risk, with interoperability as one of the key risk areas.”

To move beyond mere POCs and become scalable and something companies can create true value from, IoT needs to become more open and standardized.


Interoperability key to the future of IoT

Along with the thousands of different types of devices that make up the billions of IoT devices, there’s dozens of IoT protocols -- NB-IoT, LowRa, SigFox, BACnet, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth -- to connect them, and many more connectivity frameworks.

“There's way too many standards, too many operating systems, and hardware types out there. You need something to kind of tie it together,” says Jason Shepherd, IoT CTO, Dell Technologies. “The only way that this market scales out is with greater interoperability. There's really no way that you can scale out a market like this without it.”

To foster this interoperability, Dell and others have come together to create a new open source framework called EdgeX to standardize how companies approach the way IoT is architected at the edge.

Launched by the Linux Foundation in April of 2017, the EdgeX Foundry’s goal is to ‘simplify and standardize edge computing architectures in the Industrial IoT’. It provides an open-source IoT interoperability framework that allows companies to quickly build IoT edge solutions without the need to create their own integrations or something bespoke from scratch.

At its launch last year, Mike Krell, Lead IoT Analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, said EdgeX Foundry would ‘allow enterprise IoT applications to choose from a myriad of best-in-class software, hardware and services providers based on their specific needs.’

A large part of EdgeX came out of Dell’s Fuse project, and its supporters include Samsung, Ubuntu, Thales, VMware, and Toshiba. It was designed, says Shepherd, to ape the approach of the Cloud Foundry project and bring the principles of Cloud Foundry -- container-based architecture, platform agnosticism, microservices, flexibility etc. -- down to the edge.

“The EdgeX Foundry is a really useful initiative that is attempting to remove the large amount of duplication and re-work that exists in making IoT devices interoperable,” says CCS Insight’s Garner. “By writing device drivers once for the EdgeX framework, suppliers can take a lot of work and risk out of interworking with other components in an IoT system.”

The EdgeX project promises to provide an ecosystem of interoperable plug-and-play components and enable companies to easily add and remove applications and devices to their IoT networks without the need for redesigns.

But as well as reducing the complexity of connecting and architecting how devices connect to the edge, says Shepherd, an essential part of achieving true IoT interoperability is to decouple what happens at the edge from the backend.

While many of the big cloud providers offer ready-to-go IoT solutions that enable companies to quickly set up an IoT project, organizations can quickly find themselves locked in, and the amount of data created by devices makes sending it back and forth to the public cloud -- even if some of the data has already been pre-processed -- costly.

“PCs wouldn't have scaled if it cost a thousand dollars to connect your keyboard, which is kind of the market today,” says Shepherd.

“You've got hundreds of platforms that are all creating their own SDKs to connect to devices and hard-coded to different clouds, so the only place you can do API integration effectively is in the cloud. So, you're paying egress charges every time you want to get your own data. A lot of customers start with kind of what's easy and they don't think about that lock in up front.”


 IoT will never be a free for all but a series of massive intranets secured by blockchain

For now, many use cases for IoT revolve around efficiency or compliance; instrumenting objects to get visibility of what's going on in the physical world, and perhaps performing analytics on those devices. The next stage will be more advanced use cases where companies build off each other and share data with the next business over in order to create and consume new services.

“Most enterprises are in ‘let’s collect all the data’ mode, the rest are in ‘how best to use the collected data in my own context’ mode,” says Vishnu Andhare, consultant at ISG’s Engineering Advisory practice.

“Even though data appears to be the currency of IoT market and the sharing of that data is where the future may lie, it is far away and will take a while for the industry to evolve to data sharing mode.”

But before we get to that point, networks must be able to share data securely and trustfully so that companies are comfortable sharing information in a way that is largely automated and scalable.

“There will never be an internet of things because that's just like everything talking to everything -- that's not going to happen. You can’t share or sell data if people don't trust in how you acquired it, which goes back to the point that you need open frameworks and standards.”

Instead, predicts Shepherd, IoT networks will scale by means of ‘a series of increasingly larger intranets’ over the next five to 10 years; companies sharing data around first their own networks, and then with an increasing number of partners.

“As soon as people find business value to share data or just intrinsic value to share data, people do it.”

Gartner has warned that as IoT networks grow, a criminal black market for fake sensor and video data will boom in an effort to compromise and manipulate machines for nefarious purposes. To counter this, EdgeX is currently working on connecting into Hyperledger, the Linux Foundation’s blockchain project, in order to use blockchain as a way to help enable trust and verify the veracity of data shared between networks. Others such as the IOTA Foundation is also looking to use blockchain-based technology to verify trust and enable data sharing between connected devices.

“As more organizations become comfortable with the value of their IoT systems, we expect to see accelerating interest in blockchains for IoT and in other data sharing approaches -- such as ‘containerized data’ underpinning data marketplaces,” says CCS Insights’ Garner.


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