What is an IoT Cloud Platform and When Do You Need It?
An IoT cloud platform is a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solution that allows you to connect, manage, and analyze your devices via the cloud. 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 cloud 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 cloud 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 cloud platform to allow them to connect a device and see its live data on a dashboard without doing any coding or complicated setups.
Selecting an IoT Cloud Platform
IoT cloud 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 a long-term success with an IoT cloud platform.
Even though deployment in a public cloud is the most popular option for IoT cloud platforms, a 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.
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 in the production mode.
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 cloud 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.
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 cloud platforms also enable you to customize your dashboards and mix all those charts and data the way you or your customers like it most.
End-to-end IoT use case
It is natural for users to expect an IoT cloud 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 IoT cloud platforms 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.
Total cost of ownership
Pricing for IoT cloud 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 cloud 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 Cloud Platform?
As you can see, an IoT cloud platform is not just a message bus for your devices but a flexible solution for an 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 cloud 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