From the postal service, to the invention of the telegraph, to the telephone, and now, the Internet, human beings are always striving to improve methods of communication. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication does sound a bit like a Transformers movie, but in reality, this is what the IoT is all about. The Internet of Things already applies to a number of machines, like smart vending machines that are cashless, run 24/7, and can update stocks in real time as well as warn in advance of outages. Banks are beginning to use the IoT to monitor their ATM rooms and keep track of everything from the temperature in the room to the availability of deposit slips.
The importance of PaaS
According to Juniper Research, there will be close to 38.5 billion connected machines by the end of 2020. It really does sound like we are setting ourselves up for a disaster since almost every aspect of our lives can be accessed online, from our bank accounts to the temperature of the water coming out of our showers. How do we scale up into the millions, without compromising security? Here’s where Platform as a Service (PaaS) really outperforms both Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), as it gives organizations the flexibility to update and tweak their applications without being locked in. This ability to keep improving and updating is critical to enterprise IoT.
The potential for IoT to improve our lifestyles is endless, right from cars that can communicate with traffic signals and choose the best route, to applications that can control every aspect of our homes. The security issues that come along with it are also endless and they require consistent efforts to be kept in check. With IaaS, the development team needs to spend a lot of time worrying about operating systems, virtualization, storage, networks, and platforms. With PaaS, all the above are taken care of by a third party and your developers are free to work on their applications.
PaaS for DevOps
Quite like modern day apps that require tweaks and frequent updates, applications that run and monitor IoT devices need to always bring their “A-game.” Where applications are monitoring system critical devices like security cameras, traffic signals, or even keeping track of medical devices, there really isn’t room for error. That’s why the DevOps approach is as critical in the IoT sector, as it is in software development. The whole point of DevOps is to have smaller and more frequent updates, and PaaS is the best way to do just that. With developers able to focus on the application, and the platform and all lower layers managed separately, PaaS is definitely the first choice for a good IoT team. Another similarity between PaaS and DevOps is that quite a few vendors advertise their platform with the term “agile,” which is synonymous with DevOps practices.
Choosing the right platform for your enterprise may be trickier than you think, though all of them have the same objective, which is to make your life easier while you manage your IoT systems. Each one, however, seems to have a different approach. When you look at the way machines communicate, they don’t really communicate apart from passing on useful information from their sensors. A vending machine sensor says it’s running out of Coke and sends a message, another sensor tells you your security cameras are down and sends you a warning. It’s receiving signals from these sensors, interpreting them efficiently, and acting on them swiftly that can be called good IoT management.
There are a number of vendors that provide PaaS, and choosing the right one for you depends on the approach you would like to take. Since this is a new and growing field, there isn’t really one all-encompassing product that will meet your every need, but here is a quick look at the most popular platforms and why people are choosing them:
Ayla Networks is one of the most popular platforms out there, and the reason is its open-source approach. Everyone loves open source, and what Ayla did was write a great piece of software that sits on a chip and communicates with their cloud platform. What they also did was make it free to use so any device manufacturer can embed it on their chip. Though connectivity to their Ayla Cloud isn’t free, this eliminates the need for developers to write code for their chips and they can focus on manufacturing and management of their devices. Since the code is open source, it can be tweaked endlessly and customized to suit any type of machinery that runs on it.
Another very popular platform is MeshVista from Mesh systems. The name Vista probably comes from their partnership with Microsoft Azure, and that’s the lower layer that it works on. The popularity of this platform is mainly due to the fact that it is very secure and allows for the specific configurations that most IoT devices require. And because it runs on Microsoft Azure, this allows for massive expansion and elasticity.
Evrything, as the name suggests, is a platform that strives to connect every physical thing that we interact with to the digital world. With a wide range of capabilities, this platform can efficiently interpret, track, and manage a large volume of data from products and packaging. This platform is widely used among enterprises dealing with barcodes and large inventories. What’s different about Evrything is it offers developers a broader range of tools and technologies, and even allows developers to develop external applications that can communicate with devices using the OAuth Protocol.
Exosite is one of the more experienced players in the PaaS market. They’ve used their experience working closely with top manufacturers that develop and connect machines to the IoT and applied that experience to develop a great platform. The result is called Murano, their open-source platform that apart from being free and easy to customize, also allows connectivity to other cloud platforms. Murano also offers pre-integration into chips and allows all their customers to retain complete ownership of their data.
Another interesting option for a PaaS is the cloud-based platform from Woozilli. Apart from the fact that they have an unusual and fun-to-say name and a robot that pours drinks on their homepage, their approach is unique as well. Originally an Android developer, Woozilli’s platform is heavily based on their powerful API engine that allows integration of applications and cross-platform usability. Their API allows developers to develop for and connect to any device.
Zonoff has become a favorite among the lifestyle and “seamless-living” app developers. Originally a software developer, Zonoff has quickly become one of the leading IoT platform providers in just under five years. Their platform is called Z1 and includes precoded infrastructure designs, vast resource libraries, and preconfigured processes to manage operations and development. Their recent collaboration with Ayla Networks has made their open cloud-to-cloud partnership one of the biggest networks around.
The winning edge
With the rapid growth of the IoT and the millions of new machines connecting in as we speak, the aim of most manufacturers is to be the first to market.
In this race to be first to market, PaaS can be compared to the blinds of a race horse. They allow the horses to stay focused on the path ahead and cut off all distractions. In the same way, PaaS allows developers to stay focused on the task at hand and avoid distractions caused by platform-level operations.