7 Ways to Future Proof IoT

September 11, 2016

There is an old joke for mainframe developers

there is no new COBOL code written only copying of existing code.

It’s a reality for Enterprise IT that many old systems never actually die, but continue to run in parallel with new systems that come into existence. Many of these original systems have outlasted the expensive software packages of the 90’s and the J2EE web apps of the 2000’s. While we may lament the long life span of these critical systems, their longevity and ROI speaks to some fundamental future-proofing that was done before in the understanding of IT computing.

Today, we are just beginning to technically address the huge opportunity of the Internet of Things (IoT). We hope that the IoT solutions we build today will also be as valuable and long lasting as these early systems. While hot, trending technologies change rapidly today there are basic strategies that can be employed by Enterprise IT that will future proof your IoT Solutions.

Strategy 1 — Security

Failure to start any IoT solution without security being the first priority shows a fundamental lack of understanding about enterprise software. When an enterprise company puts out an IoT solution, it not only needs to deliver value, it also needs to live up to the established brand the company has already built. An enterprise that builds even one solution that fails to address authentication, authorization and encryption of data in motion and at rest will ultimately put their entire corporate initiative at risk.

Skipping security results in:

  • Customers have their personal information leaked.
  • Industrial machines that are turned off by a rouge hacker.
  • Construction material is removed from a job site.

Strategy 2 — Scalability

One of the biggest predictions of IoT is the massive wave of new computing that will come online. The current strategies of most enterprise today and many of the IoT platforms on the market are monolithic server architectures of yesterday. Those designs that include handling larger workloads require a single machine to be upgraded with more CPUs and RAM. The sheer scale of IoT will knock this design over. IoT solutions should be based on horizontally-scaling architectures, where adding processing capability is as simple as bringing a new container into the cluster.

Not planning for scale means:

  • Connected doors won’t open when there is an emergency.
  • Warehouses aren’t able to ship products during holidays.
  • A medical device doesn’t send the cardio metrics to a doctor.

Strategy 3 — Open Standards

Many vendors love to take a technical shortcut and communicate over proprietary standards. It’s much easier for a vendor communicate with a closed protocol rather than conform to an agreed standard that might cause extra work or place limitations on their implementation. For a vendor proprietary protocols have the added bonus of trapping their users very tightly to vendor designs and expertise. Whether MQTT or REST, future-proof IoT built today must be based on open standards so that integrations, enhancements and additions are possible and help keep your solution relevant.

Using closed standards causes:

  • Rapidly out dated user interfaces that run on expired mobile devices.
  • Inability to sell products on the latest social networks.
  • Two building automation suites running and competing to optimize HVAC.

Strategy 4 — APIs outward

Thankfully for software developers, Application Program Interfaces (APIs) have become a core part of our software communication model. This API replaces the clunky language specific software development kits (SDKs) that would often deprecate with time as languages became unsupported. APIs represent a contract for programmatic access to backend systems regardless of what the client may be (mobile app, web page, fat client) and regardless of what language the client may be written in (Java, Objective C, C#). A future-proofed IoT platform must provide an API outward approach to every asset and function it provides. Enterprise should look for solutions where API definitions are well documented, versioned maturely, and designed for supporting both low bandwidth and high bandwidth clients.

Not having a good API means:

  • Requiring unsupported versions of java to execute your application.
  • Inability to leverage an emerging language like NodeJS.
  • Smart homes that run slowly by being choked on too much data.

Strategy 5 — Experience

Some of the best IoT solutions today are leveraging the latest technologies from language to infrastructure. The success with scaling and performance that these new technologies have delivered are undeniable and should be leveraged by Enterprises, but not without first understanding the technologies today’s systems are built on. It is critical that IoT solutions understand and have techniques for how IoT will work with these experienced existing systems of record.

Additionally, while technology constantly evolves there are always patterns easily recognized with historical experience. The very old story of mainframe versus distributed, has now been repeated twice with client-server and mobile apps. The lessons learned in those technology swings should arm your IoT solutions to be better prepared for future requirements.

Not looking backwards means:

  • Six months of development is wasted building a framework that already existed.
  • Your solution requires an expensive Microsoft based OS license.
  • ATMs continue offer only a subset of banking functionality

Strategy 6 — Portability

Today’s shift to the cloud is proving to be very painful for many large enterprises. The systems running in many companies are proving to be difficult to lift and shift from one infrastructure to another. Despite that many never believed the systems they built would ever need to be moved, external business motivators have exposed this weakness. For those looking to build future proof IoT, a single deployment model is not enough. The ability to move that deployment between today’s large clouds, to enterprise virtualization, to on-premises bare metal, or to tightly constrained gateways will be critical in your IoT solution being ready for the next infrastructure trend your business will need to adopt.

Picking static deployment options causes:

  • Expensive offerings that require a Microsoft Windows license.
  • Inability to leverage new container deployment models that would cut deployment times from 2 months to 2 days.
  • An annual outlay for IBM Mainframe and z/OS based software just to keep a system running.

Strategy 7 — Flexibility

Finally your IoT solution should be focused on flexibility. Flexibility for IoT is defined as the ability to rapidly adopt new protocols, devices, and integrations. With the IoT emerging so quickly, there will without a doubt be new devices coming into your solution ecosystem. Your IoT solution should be designed for handling those new devices and however they want to communicate. Without building a flexible IoT solution, the results will be dire with rapid aging of your system, failure to deliver long term ROI and confusion for your users.

Without flexibility:

  • A smart home that cant communicate with the Apple TV.
  • A connected jobsite forced to use RFID positioning when Ultra wide band would prove easier to deploy readers.
  • A brilliant factory that can’t monitor a new set of torque wrenches.

The ClearBlade Approach

At ClearBlade we have taken an enterprise-first approach to the ClearBlade IoT Platform and ClearBlade Edge Platform. This means that we enable enterprises to build secure-by-default IoT Solutions that run horizontally scalable on any infrastructure, and communicate over approved standards to cutting edge client and legacy systems. It’s this approach to IoT that has our customers choosing ClearBlade as the core of their corporate IoT Strategies.

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