How to Choose the Right IoT Cloud Platform
Break through the noise, learn the fundamentals, and choose the right IoT cloud platform for your needs.
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So, you’re looking for an IoT cloud platform, but don’t know which to choose. Choosing the right vendor can be a complex endeavor because it is hard to determine what you actually need.
Fortunately, the purpose of this article is to help clear up some of the confusion by examining the fundamental features you need from an IoT cloud platform. This way, you know how to evaluate different platforms when comparing IoT cloud solutions. Let’s get started:
“Most companies want a cloud solution that covers all the bases, while being flexible in the ways they can store and stream data.”
What Is an IoT Cloud Platform?
Fundamentally, an IoT cloud platform acts as a reliable gateway between your devices and the web. It also acts as a set of tools to manage your devices that are out in the field.
A cloud platform needs to be capable of supporting massive amounts of data generated from devices and allow you to configure your devices for bilateral cloud communication. This means the cloud platform should allow you to transfer data from the device to the cloud, and vice versa (some IoT cloud platforms only allow you to go one way, i.e. device to cloud).
The best IoT cloud platforms make this bilateral data transfer a simple and secure process. This isn’t a simple task because data can come from multiple sources, and uses different types of data collection patterns.
What You Should Be Looking for When Comparing IoT Cloud Platforms
When comparing platforms, most companies often want an IoT cloud platform that covers all the bases, while being flexible in the ways they can store and stream data.
Truly, most companies want out-of-the-box support for opinionated behaviors AND the flexibility to change those defaults that makes it special. Ultimately, as a consumer, you’re looking for the best IoT cloud platform that lets you achieve the above based on your solution.
First and foremost, an IoT cloud platform has to support millions of simultaneous device connections and allow you to configure devices for machine-to-machine communication.
Of course, every IoT cloud platform will claim they can handle millions of simultaneous device connections. You should look for an IoT cloud platform that has consistently high uptime and offers complete transparency on previous downtimes. Every platform should have some type of platform status page; use this to examine their uptime and how they have handled past incidents. It may also help to examine the types of customers they have helped and the amount of devices they have deployed with them.
You should also look for a platform that manages the scaling cloud infrastructure for you. The best vendors will monitor the performance of your devices and help you scale when necessary.
2. Device Management Features
When comparing IoT cloud platforms, you need to assess how well the vendor allows you to monitor, segment, and manage edge devices that are out in the field.
To extract the right data out of your devices, you need a device management system that can interface with microprocessors and local software on IoT devices. This is complicated to build because few companies have an IoT hardware, software, and connectivity ecosystem that can handle bidirectional communication streams and provide device management services that don’t interfere with this process. For companies who want to have complete control over their remote devices, these are some of the basic features you’ll need:
- Cloud API — The ability to organize devices, segment your fleet for more granular control, and monitor the health of your devices in real-time.
- Developer Tools — A central interface or set of tools that allow you to manage and reprogram your IoT devices wirelessly.
- Device command and control — Cloud-based functions that allow you to control variables and events through their Rest API structure.
- Event Logs —An interface that allows you to see what’s happening with devices in real time to improve the experience of finding data that is relevant to you.
- Remote Diagnostics — Features that allow you to actively monitor device health vitals and take preemptive actions when warning signs appear.
3. Over-the-Air Firmware Updates
Over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates are a vital component of any IoT cloud platform. OTA firmware refers to the practice of remotely updating the code on an embedded device. The value of incorporating OTA update capabilities into a connected product cannot be understated, and include:
Companies can test new features by sending updates to one or multiple devices.
Companies can save costs by managing the firmware across their fleet of devices from a seamless, unified interface.
Developers can deploy frequently and reliably, knowing that products will stay functional as updates are released.
OTA firmware augments scalability by adding new features and infrastructure to products after they are released.
Device management systems and embedded devices must be built with OTA functionality for this mechanism to work. Some IoT cloud platforms may pretend they offer this feature but don’t really have it fully cooked.
A successful OTA update requires complex coordination between IoT hardware, device firmware, network connectivity, and an IoT device cloud. This might sound like a simple build with the right experts, but it is an incredibly difficult problem to solve correctly.
Many companies struggle to build an OTA update system that doesn’t accidentally cause temporary disruption, or at worst, cause devices to go into unrecoverable states.
You don’t want to give your team a half-baked OTA feature. When comparing IoT cloud platforms, test this feature by wirelessly sending new features to prototype devices. Try to test this feature at scale as well. You may want to get on a call with a sales representative to fully understand how well this feature works with their current stack.
4. Complete System Integrations
How does the IoT cloud vendor integrate all the complex stuff that you need for IoT — like cellular modems, carrier/sim cards, device diagnostics, firmware updates, cloud connections, security, application layer, and RTOS — into a simple package that your engineering team won’t have to worry about?
“Talk with your engineers and make sure the platform offers all the integrations they need to be successful.”
This will probably require a call to a sales representative to understand how these discrete components work together. Talk with your engineers and make sure these parts all work together in a way that works easily for them. Have them compare these integrations with other IoT cloud vendor platforms.
Companies looking to implement their own IoT cloud solution often underestimate the complexities of owning, managing, securing millions of possible data points. When you integrate IoT sensors and data streams, you are now concurrently processing terabytes of data, which can lead to a number of security and privacy issues.
When it comes to security, you should examine how IoT cloud platform vendors have dealt with security and privacy issues in the past and review their security content. Some security features you should look for are:
- Hardware keys — Each device should be given its own private key, so unauthorized devices can’t sneak into your fleet.
- Two-factor authentication — You always need extra security when it comes to IoT. Find an IoT cloud platform that protects your account by adding a second step to verify your identity before you can access your devices.
- Role-based access controls — For large companies, you need an IoT cloud platform that allows you to control who can manage and read data from your devices.
- Encrypted messages — This is standard practice, but make sure every message is encrypted and secure.
- No open ports — All remote devices should leave no incoming ports open for port scanners or active side attacks.
6. Data Management
When it comes to storing, processing, and analyzing data, you need a system that is already built to handle it. The best IoT cloud platforms combine data sources from an entire fleet into a unified data flow that provides product-wide business intelligence.
“ The best IoT cloud platforms combine data sources from an entire fleet into a unified data flow that provides product-wide business intelligence.”
It is also imperative to choose a IoT cloud platform architecture that seamlessly integrates device data with your existing services.
This allows you to reap all the benefits of getting to house your data where you want, without having to handle the complex building and maintenance aspects of hosting your own IoT cloud solution.
For instance, many companies often want to send device data to their Salesforce, Azure, or AWS environment. You should look for an IoT cloud platform that can handle these integrations and allow you to store your data where you want it.
The Bottom Line
It is critical that companies conduct extensive research on the tools and features they need to have complete control of remote devices out in the field.
Choosing the right IoT cloud platform requires that companies examine more than established brand names and actually prototype and test features that will allow them to manage hundreds or thousands of remote devices.
Companies that forgo this research process could face many challenges and complications down the road, leading to unsatisfactory results or failure.
IoT Cloud Platform Shortlist
Looking for an IoT cloud platform? Here is a short list of providers that can help you:
Particle — Particle is an enterprise IoT platform that offers everything you need to build an IoT product, from Device to Cloud.
Artik Cloud — The ARTIK IoT platform enables open data exchange for the Internet of Things.
Salesforce IoT — Maximize your business efforts with IoT cloud services.
Google Cloud IoT Platform— Integrated services that allow you to easily and securely connect, manage, and ingest IoT data
ThingSpeak Platform — ThingSpeak is the open IoT platform with MATLAB analytics.
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