How to Choose the Right IoT Platform: Specs, Cost, and Use Case
A modern IoT platform is typically a pay-as-you-go platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution that allows you to connect, manage, and analyze your devices via the cloud. But choosing the right IoT platform may be tricky given the vast spectrum of their tasks and capabilities. Such platforms hide the intricacies of IoT device orchestration and provide an intuitive UI to enable even non-technical users to create basic IoT applications. They also take care of all the necessary infrastructure and provide essential IoT features, such as data collection, device management, and dashboard configuration, which you can use as building blocks for your solutions.
Each platform’s vendor thus aims to strike a perfect balance between the platform’s functionality and usability while optimizing the total cost of ownership (TCO). A vast set of features may come in handy for complex projects but also be an impediment for first-time users and increase cost. In this regard - to offer better flexibility in meeting each customer’s unique needs - modern IoT platforms are usually designed as a collection of pluggable features and services. In Kaa, for example, each feature comes as an independent microservice, which can be added, customized, or even replaced with a similar third-party tool separately from the rest of the platform.
Besides the IoT functionality for application developers, an IoT platform also provides a toolkit for IoT managers and admins. This includes dashboards to view the device telemetry, user access rights and multitenancy management, and alerting. Additionally, it should be easily connected with a data analytics solution in case that’s necessary for an end-to-end customer’s use case. In most cases, users expect an IoT solution to allow them to connect a device and see its live data on a dashboard without doing any coding or complicated setups.
Essential Features of an IoT Platform
Start your IoT platform selection process by checking out some essential IoT features that you absolutely need to have as standard.
1. IoT device management
IoT device management involves managing your device lifecycle within the platform and is foundational to asset management solutions. More than merely connecting a device to the cloud, the device management feature enables you to track and update operational status of your devices, view inventory, stage software updates, and manage device groups. This feature empowers efficient asset management for solutions comprising hundreds or thousands of connected devices by allowing for structured metadata view, filtering, sorting, and search capabilities.
2. Connectivity and integration
MQQT support is what you expect from any modern IoT platform but also industry-specific connectivity protocols used in your line of business, such as OPC UA for industrial companies. The platform should also ensure security mechanisms for end-to-end data protection, such as TLS support, client authentication, and security certificates. In addition to connectivity protocols, you will also need the platform to support flexible integration with third-party solutions, custom protocols, and software modules. This is important for use cases involving multiple applications and complex interaction scenarios, such as industrial IoT, smart city, logistics, etc.
3. Device data visualization
Collecting and visualizing device data is a staple of every IoT solution. When selecting the platform for your smart devices, make sure you have all the charts, meters, gauges, and other tools to represent your data the way you want. It is even better if the platform allows you to create your own graphical widgets in addition to standard ones.
4. IoT analytics
Despite the unique opportunity that IoT technology creates for businesses by enabling them to tap into the vast pool of their device data, most struggle with taking advantage of all that data. That’s why adopting IoT analytics should be part and parcel of enterprise IoT initiatives. At the very least, analytics tools will let you easily set up rule-based alerts and notifications to always stay on top of the situation. You will also have a better view of your KPIs, performance issues, and customer behavior patterns by studying data trends over time. Even when not critical to the initial project phase, IoT analytics can help you grow and improve your IoT solution in a very near future.
5. Over-the-air software updates
With OTA updates, you can keep your devices always up-to-date and future-proof. Distribute new software updates with a few clicks in your platform interface to ensure that your customers get all the new features into their devices. You can also use the OTA feature to run A / B testing and maintain several software versions at the same time. It is especially useful for device manufacturers who would like to meet and exceed their customers’ expectations throughout the entire time they are using the product.
Other Important Selection Criteria for an IoT Platform
IoT platforms are complex solutions and selecting the right one for your business may not be easy. Most vendors offer free trial options that can help you compare platforms’ features and usability before making the final choice. However, there are several selection factors other than core IoT functionality that you may want to specifically consider for long-term success.
Even though deployment in a public cloud is the most popular option for IoT platforms, private or hybrid cloud deployments have their own specific advantages. In this case, you can have complete access to the infrastructure, which allows for greater freedom of the platform customization and control over data. A self-hosted deployment can be also a better choice for companies that deal with strict security or performance compliances, thus bringing devices as close as possible to the servers.
Speaking of public cloud deployment, you may also need to check if your platform is easily compatible with your preferred public cloud provider and its application ecosystem. Overall, a cloud platform’s deployment flexibility is important if you want fewer restrictions on your DevOps and data management.
7. User management and multitenancy
User management is an essential part of enterprise-grade IoT solutions but may be difficult to evaluate during a limited trial. Make sure your admins will have enough tools to set up user roles and permissions that represent your organization structure.
Multitenancy is another valuable enterprise feature that enables you to host multiple customers on your IoT solution. In this case, a single instance of an IoT platform provides independent environments for different user groups, customers, and organizations, thus sparing you the cost of individual allocation of computing resources and multiplied licensing fees.
Even if not a feature per se, dashboards are the most important part of an IoT platform’s UI. They allow you to represent device data on different types of charts depending on the type of data (live telemetry, location, time series, etc.) and in a desirable format. Dashboards are required not only by users but also by application developers for simplified solution configuration and troubleshooting.
Good platforms offer a broad variety of charts and visual layouts to display your data. It’s like a toolbox for perfect UX, each time you may need something different. However, best-in-class IoT platforms also enable you to customize your dashboards and mix all those charts and data the way you or your customers like it most.
9. End-to-end IoT use case
It is natural for users to expect an IoT platform to address all their challenges when creating an IoT solution. But in reality a platform alone may be not enough. Depending on your use case, some of them will require additional modules and third-party solutions for extra cost. Integrating those systems together in a single UI is another awful nuisance for both users and developers.
That’s why having a platform that can tackle your IoT use case end to end is such a significant advantage. It simplifies operations, reduces risks of error, minimizes integration and customization efforts, improves learning curves - especially for non-technical users - and allows for transparent budget planning.
10. Total cost of ownership
Pricing for IoT platforms may be rather complex and difficult to compare. For the total cost, you may need to factor in such pricing constituents as cost per device, traffic, storage, and external services. Also, similar IoT setups from different vendors may still look like an apples to oranges comparison, with loosely matching functional components, pricing packages, terms, SLAs, etc.
In order to find a common denominator for IoT platforms comparison, you can start with your desired use case. Consider what it costs to go live with different platforms for your initial set of devices as well as how much it may cost in the future if you scale up.
When Do You Need an IoT Platform?
As you can see, an IoT platform is not just a message bus for your devices but a flexible solution for end-to-end device management and analytics. With a huge variety of enterprise IoT use cases out there, you will most likely benefit from taking advantage of this technology. Are there any alternatives? Depending on your engineering skill and team size, you may use free open-source platforms provided by some vendors or build your IoT solution in house from scratch. The following points summarize some good reasons for using an enterprise-grade IoT platform:
- You know what IoT solution you need and you need it fast>
- You need to build a PoC with minimal upfront investment
- You want reliable outcomes and clear budget for your IoT initiative
- You require a technical partner who can support your business goals