Cloud · IoT

Understanding the five tiers of IoT core architecture

Internet of Things (IoT) is all the rage today. Just tagging something as belonging to the IoT family brings quite a bit of attention. However, this tagging has also created quite a bit of noise in the industry for organizations trying to sort through how best to leverage IoT. Call it IoT marketing overload. Or IoT-washing.

That being said, just about every single industry can leverage IoT in a meaningful way today. But where does one begin? There are many ways to consider where to start your IoT journey. The first is to understand the basic fundamentals of how IoT solutions are architected. The five tiers of IoT core architecture are: Applications, Analytics, Data, Gateway and Devices. Using this architecture, one can determine where any given IoT solution fits…and the adjacent components required to compete the solution.

THE FIVE TIERS OF IOT CORE ARCHITECTURE

  • DEVICE TIER

The device tier is the physical device that collects data. The device is a piece of hardware that collects telemetry (data) about a given situation. Devices can range from small sensors to wearables to large machines. The data itself may be presented in many forms from electrical signals to IP-data.

The device may also display information (see Application tier).

  • GATEWAY TIER

The sheer number of devices and interconnection options creates a web of complexity to connect the different devices and their data streams. Depending on the streams, they may come in such diverse forms as mechanical signals or IP-based data streams. On the surface, these streams are completely incompatible. However, when correlating data, a common denominator is needed. Hence, the need for a gateway to collect and homogenize the streams into manageable data.

  • DATA TIER

The data tier is where data from gateways is collected and managed. Depending on the type of data, different structures may be called for. The management, hygiene and physical storage of data is a whole classification onto itself simply due to the four V’s of data (Volume, Variety, Velocity, Veracity).

  • ANALYTICS TIER

Simply managing the sheer amount of data coming from IoT devices creates a significant hurdle when converting data into information. Analytics are used to automate the process for two reasons: Manageability and Speed. The combination of these two present insights to the varied complexity of data coming from devices. As the number and type of devices vary and become increasingly more complex, so will the demand for analytics.

  • APPLICATION TIER

Applications may come in multiple forms. In many cases, the application is the user interface that leverages information coming from the analytics tier and presented to the user in a meaningful way. In other cases, the application may be an automation routine that interfaces with other applications as part of a larger function.

Interestingly, the application may reside on the device itself (ie: wearable).

IoT Architecture

 

Today, many IoT solutions cover one or more of the tiers outlined above. It is important to understand which tiers are covered by any given IoT solution.

CLOUD-BASED IOT SOLUTIONS

Several major cloud providers are developing IoT solutions that leverage their core cloud offering. One thing that is great about these solutions is that they help shorten the IoT development time by providing fundamental offerings that cover many of the tiers outlined above. Most of the solutions focus on the upper tiers to manage the data coming from devices. Three such platforms are: Amazon AWS IoT, IBM Watson IoT, and Microsoft Azure IoT Suite. Each of these emphasize on a different suite of ancillary solutions. All three allow a developer to shorten the development time for and IoT solution by eliminating the need to develop for all five tiers.

THE SECURITY CONUNDRUM

One would be remiss to discuss IoT without mentioning security. Security of devices, data elements and data flows are an issue today that needs greater attention. Instead of a one-off project or add-on solution, security needs to be part of the DNA infused in each tier of a given solution. Based on the current solutions today, there is a long way to go with this aspect.

That being said, IoT has a promising and significant future.

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