IoT Course Week 13 – IoT Platforms

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Last week, we explored remote firmware updates for IoT Devices, using the Debian Package system. This week, we’ll be discussing various IoT platforms.

When we started the course, we had an explicit goal to avoid “black box” solutions, platforms, and vendor lock-in, as much as possible.  We wanted students to understand how these systems are built, as well as architectural and security considerations. The course in some ways is “Learn IoT the Hard Way”, by learning through building various components of an IoT system, stiching those components into a holistic system, and touching on a number of important non-functional requirements, like security, load testing, analytics, and firmware update.  Through that experience (and occasional struggle), we hoped to arm students with enough knowledge and experience to understand both the individual components as well as the overall system.

You can, of course, purchase a complete IoT system – they’re generally referred to as IoT Platforms.  There are many, many choices

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Platform Tradeoffs

When building a product or a business around any technical platform, one must consider the long term implications of that platform. There are the basic questions of functionality and offloading work and operations, but the added complexities of hardware. What does this platform scale to, how quickly can I go from prototype to market, where can I source large quantities of an item, etc. Software as a service also has a few horror stories of products or companies discontinuing a line, which other companies heavily rely on. Controlling your own destiny is very important, and can sometimes be difficult when building your business on a platform that is someone else’s responsibility to keep running. One platform which we feel is here to stay for some time however, is Amazon Web Services.

AWS IoT

From the beginning of this course, the intention was to never take the easy path in building the LAMPi system. Amazon offers a service encompassing much of the functionality we have spent the past several weeks piecing together, AWS IoT, which provides secure, bidirectional communication between internet-connected things and the AWS cloud. This includes a robust security model, device registry, MQTT message broker, as well as integration ease with the remainder of AWS’ cloud offering. Let’s dive in.

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The Message Broker offered through AWS IoT mirrors sections of the MQTT broker, Mosquitto, that we used for LAMPi. AWS takes it to the next level by providing an HTTP RESTful interface to get and change the current state of your devices. The broker does not retain any messages, but simply provides a central point for the pub-sub model.

Aptly named, the Thing Registry, acts as the central location for managing and identifying the things, or devices hooked into the AWS IoT system. The Thing Registry keeps track of any resources or attributes associated with a particular thing. It also provides a location to keep track of MQTT client ID’s and associated certificated, which improve one’s ability to manage and troubleshoot individual things.   

Coupled with the Thing Registry is AWS’ concept of Thing Shadows. This is a persistent digital representation of the state of a device. As well as providing the current reported state of a device, it also will report the state desired, clientToken which it uses to send MQTT environments, and metadata.

AWS IoT comes with the robust Security and Identity Service that our team has come to know and love throughout this course. Things retain their own credentials, and access is granted to the system through the assignment of rules and permissions. Three identity principals are supported in this system, X.509 certificates, IAM, and Amazon Cognito.   

All of these services have the added benefit of being fairly cheap. The current rate is at $5 per million messages.

Next week, join us for the final installment of the IoT Course Blog Series: Week 14 Final Projects and Wrap Up.

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