Cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT) have become inseparable when one or the other is discussed and with good reason: You really can’t have IoT without the cloud. The cloud, a grander idea that stands on its own, is nonetheless integral to the IoT platform’s success.
The Internet of Things is a system of unrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, and other devices provided with unique identifiers (an IP address) and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
Whereas the traditional internet consists of clients – PCs, tablets, and smartphones, primarily – the Internet of Things could be cars, street signs, refrigerators, or watches. Whereas traditional Internet input and interaction relies on human input, IoT is almost totally automated.
Because the bulk of IoT devices are not in traditional data centers and almost all are connected wirelessly, they are reliant on the cloud for connectivity. For example, connected cars that send up terabytes of telemetry aren’t always going to be near a data center to transmit their data, so they need cloud connectivity.
The Role of Cloud Computing in IoT
IoT has been embraced by many industries around the world, including precision agriculture, health care, energy, transportation, building management, and so forth. Regardless of industry, IoT generates a huge amount of data, which needs to be processed, and most IoT devices do not have the compute or storage capacity to do it locally.
Therefore, data must be sent up the chain to a data center for processing. Managing the flow and storage of this data is a consuming task for enterprises. At best, the IoT device can decide what should be processed and what can be discarded, but that is still a large amount of data movement to data centers for processing.
Connectivity of the devices in and of itself does not provide the benefits to people. It’s what those devices enable that makes IoT valuable. Again, many of these devices are compute-constrained, so connectivity to cloud services helps the devices to provide its valuable proposition.
Therefore, the cloud provides:
Services: IoT depends on the cloud for its services, since most IoT devices cannot provide them on their own.
Scalability: Some day, every car will be a smart car, generating gigabytes if not terabytes of data. That data has to go somewhere to be processed, and one central data center would be overwhelmed. So smaller, redundant IoT edge data centers scattered around the city would allow for scale-out capacity.
Increased performance: The large amounts of data produced by IoT devices need extreme performance to interact and connect with one another. IoT in the cloud provides the connectivity that is necessary to share information between the devices and make meaning from it at a fast pace.
Types of IoT
There are three major types of IoT: industrial, commercial, and home. Let’s break them down:
Industrial Internet of Things: Called IIoT for short, industrial Internet of Things covers things like connected factory equipment. IIoT devices are primarily sensors used to monitor equipment in case of malfunction but can also include everything from remote monitoring of computer-chipped livestock on a commercial farm to a commercial delivery truck.
The idea behind IIoT is to provide much more useful information than a flashing red light. IIoT sensor data is used to provide actionable insights into physical events and the environment with specificity. It could warn of hardware failure, power fluctuations, heat build up and other points of failure. While most IoT applications operate in the public cloud, most IIoT systems operate mainly in private clouds.
Commercial IoT: Commercial IoT, sometimes called consumer IoT, is a term applied to IoT for business enablement. Think of it as Bluetooth and RFID all grown up. Sensors, micro-controllers, actuator devices, and other systems allow for business-oriented use like intelligent asset tracking, smart offices and buildings, connected lighting, sensing and monitoring of all types, and location services.
Home IoT: Also called smart home IoT, it covers a range of smart devices that you can control remotely for automated house maintenance. It’s one thing to program the security alarm to arm and disarm a certain hours, but with the smart home, you can program them with your smartphone, including locked doors you left open. Or have your refrigerator send you an alert if food is running low, or perhaps turn on the air conditioner when the home detects you have left work and are headed home.
Major IoT Cloud Providers
Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a broad array of IoT offerings covering industrial, commercial, and home uses. These services include:
- Amazon FreeRTOS: which helps the user to program, deploy, secure, connect, and manage microcontrollers for edge devices.
- AWS IoT Device Management: a service that organizes, monitors and remotely manages IoT devices at scale.
- AWS IoT Device Defender: a managed service that helps the user secure their IoT devices by auditing the user’s devices to make sure they are in compliance with security practices.
- AWS IoT Analytics: a fully managed service that creates simple-to-run analytics on large volumes of IoT data.
- AWS IoT 1-Click: a service which triggers AWS Lambda functions that execute a particular function or action.
- AWS Greengrass: performs functions such making sure connected devices will run AWS Lambda functions, keep device data in sync, and communicate with different devices firmly.
Microsoft Azure IoT
Microsoft also covers all three areas of IoT, with emphasis on supporting its infrastructure. There is strong support from Microsoft tools and on-premises connections. Services include:
- Azure IoT Central: The main foundation for building IoT solutions
- Azure IoT solution accelerators: Custom solution templates for common IoT uses, like remote monitoring, industrial IoT (IIoT), predictive maintenance, and device simulation.
- Azure IoT Edge: Provides connectivity from the central hub to your edge devices
- Azure IoT Hub: Connect, monitor, and control all of your IoT assets
- Azure Digital Twins: Create a digital model of your physical space or assets.
- Azure Time Series Insights: Explore and gain insights from time-series IoT data in real-time.
- Azure Sphere: Build and connect highly secure MCU-powered devices
- Azure RTOS: Making embedded IoT development and connectivity easy.
- Azure SQL Edge: Consume services privately on Azure Platform.
Google Cloud IoT
Google Cloud IoT leverages Google Cloud’s areas of emphasis, such as big data, analytics, and machine learning (ML). Its core services focus on commercial IoT, but Google does play in industrial and home IoT as well. Key IoT services include:
- Tools for building IoT applications: ranges from data ingestion to intelligence using Google’s IoT building blocks.
- Predictive maintenance: Lets you automatically predict when equipment will need maintenance and optimize its performance in real-time, while predicting downtime, detecting anomalies, and tracking device status, state, and location.
- Real-time asset tracking: Track valuable assets in real-time and perform complex analytics and machine learning on the data you collect to deliver actionable business insights.
- Logistics and supply chain management: Perform fleet management, inventory tracking, cargo integrity monitoring, and other business-critical functions with Google Cloud IoT’s logistics solution.
- Smart cities and buildings: Bring new levels of intelligence and automation to entire homes, buildings, or cities by building a comprehensive solution that spans billions of sensors and edge devices.
IBM Watson IoT
IBM is fully invested in its Watson AI initiative and its IoT offering is no different. IBM Watson IoT is heavily focused around predictive analytics and all the related subsections, like supply chain management, enterprise asset management, real estate and facilities management, and climate and weather technology. IBM Watson for IoT includes:
- Watson IoT Platform starter: a starter platform for building the basics of IoT. Not available for production environments.
- Platform Service: the basic platform service that is used as the IoT device message broker for secure device registration, real-time analytics, and more.
- Analytics Service: add-on component for analytics features
- IoT Registration Service: a service to maintain a registry of IoT appliances and consumers.
- Cloudant NoSQL DB: a managed NoSQL database service that captures device measurements and events and stores them for use by real-time applications.
- Db2 Warehouse on Cloud: the Watson IoT Platform data lake.
- IBM Cloud Object Storage: unstructured cloud data storage for long-term storage.
- IBM Cloud App ID: authentication for mobile and web apps that connect to your Watson IoT Platform.
- IBM Secure Gateway for IBM Cloud: a secure way to access your on-premises or cloud data from your IBM Cloud application by using a secure passage.
The Alibaba Group is frequently called “The Chinese AWS” for a similar structure and working methods, and its cloud service is no different. The Alibaba IoT platform provides several services, along with flexible discount plans for new customers, covering up all the key cloud services, such as hosting, object storage, elastic computing, a relational database (SQL), big data (Hadoop), artificial intelligence, machine learning and NoSQL database.
It is the largest cloud vendor in China but has expanded to serve international customers as well. However, the common view is that Alibaba’s foreign offerings aren’t as robust as what it has in China. But it does comply with international regulations, including PCI DSS and HIPAA in the U.S., Germany’s C5 and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Alibaba’s IoT Platform breaks down into four major categories:
- Device connection: Allows IoT platform to connect a large number of devices to the cloud. This includes device development, access via NB-IoT, cellular (2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G), Wi-Fi, and LoRaWAN devices, SDKs that support various protocols, such as MQTT, CoAP, HTTP, and HTTPS and supports various open source programming languages.
- Device management: For managing the life cycle of devices: device registration, feature definition, data parsing, online debugging, remote configuration, OTA update, real-time monitoring, device grouping, and device deletion.
- Security: The IoT platform provides multiple protections to effectively secure devices and data in the cloud, such as identity authentication for chip-level secure storage solution and a device key management mechanism to prevent device keys from being cracked. Provides unique-certificate-per-device authentication mechanism as well as unique-certificate-per-product authentication mechanism. Also supports MQTT or HTTPS-based TLS encryption and CoAP-based DTLS encryption to ensure data confidentiality and integrity.
- Rules engine: Offers server-side subscription to messages of one or more types from all devices of a specific product and data forwarding to forward the specified fields of topic messages to a destination based on a data forwarding rule for storage and computing.
Unlike its competitors, Alibaba also makes IoT device chips and an operating system, ALiOS, but for the Chinese market.
Oracle IoT Cloud
Oracle is fully invested in the industrial and commercial sides of IoT, oriented toward manufacturing and logistics operations and supporting integration with Oracle and non-Oracle applications and IoT devices using the REST API.
Oracle is focused on helping companies bring their products to market as soon as possible, using high-speed messaging and endpoint management, extending and improving your supply chain, customer experience apps and operational efficiency, all apps Oracle sells. The Oracle IoT cloud platform offers real-time analysis research and integrates acquired data with the company’s apps or web services.
Oracle is focused on four areas of IoT intelligent applications:
- Asset monitoring: Effectively manage enterprise assets and reduce overall maintenance costs. Track the real-time location, health, and utilization of your assets. View your assets and analytics on the dashboard, and automate actions based on predictive insights from your business applications.
- Production monitoring: Effectively meet your product deliveries. Understand the real-time status of your factories and machines, and diagnose performance issues. Apply predictive analytics to the health of your factory, products, and machines to get recommendations and take action.
- Fleet monitoring: Monitor your vehicles, drivers, and trips in real-time. View your vehicles’ location, costs of operation, usage, and driving behavior history.
- Connected worker: Improve the safety and health of your workers. Comply with safety regulations. Gain real-time visibility into your workers health, location, and work environment.