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Explaining the Architecture of the Internet of Things

“Ecosystem” is a term commonly used to describe the architecture of a system, including peripheral components such as the motherboard.  But what components, specifically, are included in the IoT ecosystem?


 

Overview

Before we talk about the details of each component, let’s outline what we use to generate the general flow of data across the IoT platform.  We have:

 

  • Devices (computing cards and sensors)
  • Communications gateways
  • IoT communications cloud
  • Back-end applications or local fog computing assets

 

That’s the bare minimum.  Let’s look further into each area.

 

Devices

An IoT device has sensors and, optionally, a controller run by a computing card, that can affect some sort of change, like turn off the device to which it is attached.

 

The computing cards have a CPU and a wireless network or LAN card which run a version of Linux or something even smaller, like FreeRTOS.  Computing cards usually have a web server, which enables connected users to perform administrative tasks, and an ssh shell so they can log in and program it.

 

These devices are programmable with the manufacturer's APIs and custom code written by the user.  Intel makes that programming easier with its Arduino programming environment and Sketches.  Bosch has a development environment as well.  Programmers can use regular programming languages too, like Python.  And then the IoT cloud vendor has APIs.  Those exist in the cloud or in components downloaded to the card.

 

Sensors include a magnetometer, light level monitor, motion sensor, camera, gyroscope, temperature, humidity, air quality, flow, etc. These are generally low cost devices that plug into a computing board attached to a computing card, such as the Intel Edison, Raspberry Pi, or Bosch XDK.  Some devices are standalone and connect to the network using short-distance radio protocols, like Z-Wave.  An example of that is a motion detector attached to a window or a BLE beacon, which can attach to a wall using tape or be as small as a sticker.

  

 

Gateways

An industrial setting already has gateways in place.  A gateway might convert serial to ethernet protocols, most commonly seen in programmable logic controllers (PLCs).  Gateways also convert low bandwidth IoT protocols to ethernet to ensure signals can travel across the local network and internet.

 

Check out the  IoT Acceleration Starter Kit

 

 

IoT Cloud

IoT clouds have several components because the IoT cloud not only handles communications with the IoT devices, it performs the required and necessary maintenance for the devices.  For example, it can designate a device as “offline,” when it needs to be replaced.  The IoT cloud sends firmware and software updates out to the connected devices.  The IoT cloud runs apps developed by developers to respond to events coming from the IoT devices.  These apps also connect to apps hosted by Amazon or other cloud provided to execute business logic.  The business apps can run on the IoT vendor’s cloud, the customer’s public or private cloud, or both.

 

Data gathered from the IoT devices can also be processed by applications commonly referred to as “fog computing.” Fog computing applications are designed to take action on the data locally, without having to waste time making a roundtrip to the primary IoT cloud to ask what the device should be doing.

 

Your business’ IoT cloud may also include the components’ IoT cloud, from the manufacturer, and its corresponding devices. That is often the case with expensive equipment like industrial refrigeration, diesel engines, etc.

 

Dashboard

The IoT cloud has a dashboard where users can monitor devices in the field, through the provided software or a mobile app (when available).

 

 

Communications

How does all the data get from the devices to the IoT communications cloud? The IoT uses HTTP and MQ.  HTTP is the standard protocol used by the world wide web – the internet. HTTP defines how messages are formatted and transmitted and what actions servers and browsers should take in response to the various commands they receive. MQ (short for “message queue”) is a messaging protocol used to send data in a way such that nothing get lost.  As the name implies, MQ handles the flow of data.

 

The IoT network includes physical device components such as Wi-Fi, routers (gateways) and wired networks,  Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave and more.

 

In add to physical components, the IoT might include cellular communications by using an M2M (machine-to-machine) cellular network or your regular wireless carrier.  Depending on the IoT cloud’s relationship with the carrier, the IoT cloud can take care of preparing the SIM cards in the IoT devices themselves. The IoT cloud can also communicate to and with the customer’s network (public internet, private VPN network, etc.).  

 

Event Processing

An IoT device runs on applications that need some sort of rules engine or custom code to create alerts based on the data it is receiving.  For example: on an industrial machine, when the vibration goes outside the programmed norms, an alert would be sent to the dashboard and a technician.  The device could also be programmed to create a maintenance work order in the ERP preventive maintenance system.

 

Analytics

IoT data and information is collected and stored in large databases for offline and real-time analytics.  The goal is to spots trends, find correlation between variables, and make observations that users can use to adjust processes. The database info can be explored and analyzed using statistical and machine learning tools in analytics packages or compiled manually into spreadsheets.

 

Identity Management

Identity management means controlling who has access to what devices, computers, and  applications in the IoT cloud.  Due to constant security risks, identity management is crucial and often required by the regulations of many industries.

 

Admin Support

The IoT is not free! Administrative support is needed to determine usages and oversee billing.   

 

Operations and Management

In the case of an IoT cloud customer, they maintain their own network – including connecting their IoT devices to their local network – while their IoT provider maintains the IoT cloud.  The applications required by the IoT for dataflow are hosted by a hosting company. A company’s IT department can ensure all of the computers and networks are working, have been patched, are monitored for cybersecurity events, and have adequate disk space for storage.

 

IoT devices can require minimal maintenance, such as replacing a battery or air filter. However, many IoT devices are maintenance-free – yet another benefit of using IoT in your enterprise! 

 

Now that you've gained a clearer picture of what an IoT ecosystem is, why not read up on relayr's IoT Acceleration Starter Kit? If you are interested in creating a rapid industrial-grade IoT prototype, this is the solution for you: 

 

Check out the  IoT Acceleration Starter Kit