IoT platform comparison

IoT Platform Comparison: Six Vendors to Keep Watching in 2021

We compare some of the most exciting products on the IoT platform market right now, the ones that tick off all the boxes when it comes to innovation: Balena.io, Particle.io, Thingworx, Siemens Mindsphere, Adamos, and Record Evolution.

What is an IoT platform?

An IoT platform is the middleware and the infrastructure that enables end-users to interact with smart objects. They function as the software bridge between the hardware and application layers. The IoT platform orchestrates the movement of data between IoT devices and IoT applications, providing application-level capabilities for humans to interact with the IoT system. 

IoT platforms bind together all other IoT layers to streamline infrastructure management and support security. They reduce the complexities in the deployment and implementation of the IoT system.  IoT platforms are used to connect to, secure, and manage IoT devices, support data analysis, or enable developers to create code and applications that interact with the IoT system and integrate with larger enterprise systems. 

Essentially, an IoT platform has the purpose of unlocking the full potential of an IoT infrastructure. 

IoT platforms offer connectivity, integrality, and interoperability. This way, they facilitate communication, an uninterrupted data flow, device management, as well as system and service customization. 

Why would you need an IoT platform?

Managing a growing IoT ecosystem brings various challenges as organizations transition from small-scale pilots to fully-fledged IoT deployments. Thousands of IoT endpoints, the data they generate, the analyses of that data, integrations with the cloud as well as other systems have to be managed and maintained. 

Depending on the IoT application, the challenges may be different. Typical concerns include multiprotocol connectivity, interoperability, device discovery and device management, customization, scalability, data management, as well as privacy and security concerns. 

IoT platforms help in such scenarios as they abstract the hardware while simplifying deployment, improving resiliency, maximizing scalability, increasing reliability, reducing cost, and minimizing latency.

What are the essential features of the new end-to-end IoT platform? Our checklist

Still, not all IoT platforms are made equal. Some platforms cover the entire value chain with their services, while others are only responsible for a layer or two of the four-layer IoT architecture. For example, one IoT platform would only take care of connectivity and device management.

Another will also incorporate IoT data extraction and advanced analytics on top of these. And a third vendor may be offering an end-to-end IoT platform where you not only extract and analyze IoT data or manage, control & monitor devices, but also develop and deploy IoT apps on your devices in real time. 

For more information on the four-stage IoT architecture, see our article The IIoT Architecture Design: How to Tap into Its Full Potential?

Today, almost all IoT platforms on the market offer IoT device management in some form and take care of security concerns. Apart from that, there is a growing trend towards IoT collaboration in user communities both within and outside the platform. Further, we have an increased tendency to incorporate a development environment and analytics capabilities within the scope of the classic IoT platform offering.

The most comprehensive IoT platforms on the market today offer an even broader spectrum of capabilities. So what are the essentially new and exciting traits of the end-to-end IoT platform, the ones that really make a difference? Here is a breakdown of these platform capabilities: 

Over-the-air (OTA) development

Browser-based OTA development enables enterprise users to use full-featured development environments on their company laptops without elevated privileges. The code can be created and executed on any remote device utilizing all attached sensors and machines during the development process.

Advanced analytics (AI)

The end-to-end IoT platform features data science functionalities that serve as the foundation for machine learning tasks, effectively combining IoT and AI.

Decentral collaboration

Today’s IoT platforms thrive on collaboration and are built on the principles of social platforms. Every user is a tenant and can create and share assets with other users (see Github for comparison).

Easy setup & instant scalability

Registering new devices on the IoT platform should be easy and the platform is expected to be able to scale up and down in seconds.

Integrations

As the classic features of an open platform, API endpoints allow the integration of a diverse set of external tools. 

Different deployment options 

IoT platforms today are expected to respond to different deployment needs and be available in the cloud, on-premises, or as hybrid deployments.

IoT platform comparison 

So here is our selection of some of the most exciting IoT platforms on the market right now that tick off all the boxes when it comes to innovation: Balena.io, Particle.io, Thingworx, Siemens Mindsphere, Adamos, and Record Evolution (Our product is on the list too because we quite objectively consider it to be among the most exciting products in its niche. Let us know what you think too!). 

In what follows, we have compiled a list of key capabilities, what we see as the strengths and the weaknesses of the individual IoT platforms, as well as a short introduction into the pricing structure of each platform. 

And here is a quick breakdown of the end-to-end IoT development functionalities in comparison:

Table 1. IoT platform comparison of six innovative platform vendors

Record Evolution Platform

Record Evolution is an end-to-end IoT platform covering the entire value chain from IoT data collection, advanced analytics, all the way to IoT development and deployment. It is suitable for a variety of use cases and is not restricted to just one industry. Apart from data collection and IoT device management, the platform covers some unique functionalities.

Most notable functionalities:

  • IoT app store & IoT development studio. This is the only platform offering an IoT development studio directly linked to an IoT app store. The whole development process from raw code to production and placing an app in the IoT app store is provided within one platform.
  • Over-the-air development (OTA). Record Evolution is among the few platforms featuring OTA development on IoT devices for rapid and flexible development cycles.
  • Decentral architecture. Based on social platforms where every user is a tenant, the platform enables decentralized project-based work environments for individuals, teams, and whole divisions within an organization. 
  • User community. A strong focus on the developer experience and the foundation for an active sharing community.
  • Simple & instant setup. The setup of assets and projects within the platform is very simple. A complete data warehouse structure can be created in seconds. 
  • Flexible deployment options. A SaaS by default; installation on a virtual private cloud (VPC) or on-premises hardware is also available.

Strengths: This is an end-to-end IoT development platform that covers data collection, advanced analytics, a cloud IDE for IoT app development & deployment plus classics such as IoT device management. IoT deployment is especially easy and intuitive.

Weaknesses: The product is relatively new; the beta phase has just ended.

Pricing: Usage-based pricing with a free-tier option.

Balena.io

Balena.io is an open-source IoT platform that offers the complete set of tools for building, deploying, and managing fleets of connected Linux devices. It easily scales up and down, which makes the platform suitable for use at any stage of an IoT project and in a variety of use cases that are not confined to a specific industry. Balena.io efficiently takes care of the infrastructure so that users can focus on being creative with their application. 

The platform can also be consumed as two separate offerings: BalenaCloud for device deployment and device management and OpenBalena providing the building blocks so that users can create their own device deployment and management platform.

You also get some open-source tools. The BalenaEtcher is a flashing app allowing users to flash OS images to SD cards or USB drives. BalenaEngine is the company’s own container engine and BalenaOS allows users to run and manage Docker containers on devices. 

Most notable functionalities:  

  • Refined IoT collaboration. You grant many different user privileges and can interact with a variety of collaborator types. 
  • User community. The platform has been around for a while and is especially popular with the developer community so it covers a vast variety of use cases. 
  • Custom open-source tools. Once the platform creators discovered that aspects of the IoT process are inadequate, they simply created their own tools to make them better. You can now use the vendor’s BalenaEtcher, BalenaOS, and BalenaEngine. 

Strengths: Open-source based. The offering covers cloud and devices. Good technology base with a long history of adoption in the open-source community.

Weaknesses: Centralized platform with very strong developer focus. No data analytics or AI support. No on-premises model.

Pricing: Plan-based pricing model with extensions billed by users and devices.

Particle.io

This is a bundle of IoT solutions for hardware, connectivity, devices, and apps. The Particle.io suite of hardware and software tools helps users prototype, scale, and manage different IoT products. As an IoT platform, Particle covers the IoT value chain from the edge to the cloud. But it also offers prototype-ready development kits, industrial-grade production modules, as well as a tracking system and configurable asset-tracking devices. 

Most notable functionalities:

  • Ease of use. No expert knowledge is needed to get started and the platform setup is instant.
  • Reliability. The platform provides a robust infrastructure that makes it especially easy to scale. 
  • All-in-one. This is a complete solution for the hardware, software, and connectivity so that users can invest less time in integrations. 
  • Data management. When it comes to data tasks, the platform can be integrated with anything thanks to its RESTful API. 
  • IoT Device Management & Edge-to-Cloud Stack. You combine hardware, device OS, connectivity & security with fleet diagnostics and access controls for devices.

Strengths: Complete offering from devices over connectivity to cloud platform services with an attractive user experience and good developer support. One of the better IoT development platforms out there.

Weaknesses: Targeted mainly at mobile outdoor IoT solutions. Clients are locked into the particle.io platform. No data analytics or AI support. No on-premises model.

Pricing: Plan-based pricing model billed by device for $2 to $6 per device in the lowest pricing range.

PTC Thingworx

The Thingworx IoT platform is particularly suited for industrial IoT scenarios. It manages the development cycle of IoT applications, starting with data extraction from different types of devices through analytics to IoT development and deployment. The industrial IoT platform allows users to create industrial IoT applications at greater speed without the need to write too many lines of code. A downside is that it is not possible to simply sign up and get started. Users need to contact sales, a partner, or a reseller first without having the chance to form an opinion in testing the platform by themselves. 

Most notable functionalities:

  • Connectivity. Users can extend standard industrial connectivity across heterogeneous devices and applications for more access to more data sources.
  • Data analytics. Users can extract data and perform IoT analytics directly on the platform or use the analytics extensions. 
  • Developing and deploying solutions. The platform uses ready-made tools & drag-and-drop functionalities for building IIoT solutions. 
  • Flexible deployment options. Users can deploy the platform on on-premises servers, in the cloud, or in hybrid environments.

Strengths: Proven IoT platform with global enterprise installations. Contains relevant vertical content for manufacturing.

Weaknesses: No self-service signup. Little code development features and support. Product lock-in. The data analytics and/or AI support are somewhat limited.

Pricing: Unclear. The vendor has to be contacted first.

Adamos IIoT platform

This is an example of an IIoT platform that is specifically geared towards mechanical and plant engineering use cases. The Adamos IIoT platform consists of independent yet integratable building modules so that users can freely select the modules they need when building their IoT solutions. The setup is easy and the platform is ready to use within minutes. But to use the platform at all, the vendor has to be contacted first. The developer center resources and other information are only available after the user login, giving the whole experience a proprietary feel.

Most notable functionalities:

  • Customization with microservices. Allows users to add new features. Once you have built a microservice, you deploy it flexibly in any deployment scenario. 
  • Partner of Software AG. In teaming up with the industry giant, Adamos can offer additional support in solution architectures, app development, and managed services.
  • Cloud and on-premises deployment options. Users can flexibly select their deployment mode from the outset. 

Strengths: Has the backing of many German industrial companies and large consulting firms.

Weaknesses: The platform can be tested and used only after personal contact with the vendor. A closed platform strategy with no real self-service signup and therefore no built-in scalability and community effect.

Pricing: Unclear. The vendor has to be contacted first.

Siemens Mindsphere 

Built on the Mendix IoT platform, Mindsphere is specifically targeting industrial IoT applications. The IIoT platform offers the full spectrum of connectivity, data collection, and advanced analytics to read out machine data & analyze processes. It also comes with device and asset management functionalities. Apart from that, there is a developer cockpit for registering and testing IoT apps as well as an operator cockpit from which users can run and manage apps as well as sell IoT apps on the Mindsphere app store. 

Most notable functionalities:

  • App development via Mendix. Users develop apps on the low-code app development platform Mendix OR and upload them to Mindsphere. 
  • App store for IoT applications. This is an app store where developers can step up as app providers and actually sell their apps. Payment and invoicing is done by Mindsphere. 

Strengths: Built on a strong existing client base and industrial experience.

Weaknesses: Mindsphere is a centralized cloud platform with no on-premises model. Needs an additional local development environment for creating apps. The Siemens app store has only 74 apps, showing low adoption.

Pricing: App pricing is calculated using metrics such as users, compute-hours, or months. Ready-made apps range between 0€ to 200€ per month per user/device.

Conclusion

To conclude, ThingWorx is particularly suited for industrial IoT solutions, as are Adamos and Mindsphere. As an open-source IoT platform, Balena.io is most popular with the developer community and has a long history of adoption. Record Evolution and Balena.io are especially easy to use and open to everyone after a quick signup. Finally, Record Evolution and Thingworx stand out as end-to-end IoT platforms that can cover the full IoT development cycle in one offering.

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About Record Evolution

We are a Data Science & IoT team based in Frankfurt am Main, committed to helping companies of all sizes to innovate at scale. So we’ve built an easy-to-use development platform enabling everyone to benefit from the powers of IoT and AI.