open IoT platform

What Is an Open IoT Platform and Why Use One?

Many companies struggle with building IoT products using open source and parts from multiple different vendors. This is costly and drains internal resources. Others find they have an IoT platform vendor who locks them into one way of doing IoT—a cloud infrastructure, IoT deployment, proprietary standards, or hardware. So recently, there has been a lot of talk around the phenomenon of the open IoT platform.

Within the IoT platform market, there is no clear consensus on what openness means and what the ingredients of openness are. Not being clear on this can lead to misunderstandings and even wrong strategic decisions. This article gives you an overview of the various facets of platform openness.

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 the IoT device and the IoT application. Further, it provides application-level capabilities for humans to interact with the IoT system. 

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

IoT platforms bind together all other IoT layers to streamline infrastructure and IoT device management and support security. They reduce the complexities in the deployment and implementation of IoT systems. 

IoT platforms are used to connect to, secure, and manage IoT devices, support data analysis, enable developers to create code and applications that interact with the IoT system, and integrate with larger enterprise systems. They offer connectivity, integrality, and interoperability to facilitate communication, an uninterrupted data flow, device management, as well as system and service customization.

Why are IoT platforms needed?

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 IoT 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, privacy and security concerns, and in some cases, the cloud service and automatic context detection. 

IoT platforms help in such scenarios as they abstract the hardware while simplifying deployment. Further, they improve resiliency, maximize scalability, increase reliability, reduce cost, and minimize latency.

The rise of the open IoT platform

Today, IoT involves vertically integrated systems that often are closed and fragmented in their applicability. Users often need to navigate through different brands and vendors across the entire value chain and understand which devices are compatible with their platforms.

Many commercial or proprietary IoT platforms promote vendor lock-in. Because the IoT landscape is constantly changing, IoT platform providers often fail to provide timely support of new protocols, tools, and data formats. 

diagram showing the aspects of an open IoT platform
Image 1. An open IoT platform can mean many different things

Openness, on the other hand, is one of the emerging trends in IoT. The open IoT platform has become a popular term that is synonymous with more independence and a better ecosystem. More and more IoT players are becoming motivated to use open systems. Some of the benefits are transparency, convenience, and fast development resulting in significant cost savings. 

But what does it mean for an IoT platform to be open? This is not a monolithic term but rather describes various types of openness. The most common openness types encountered in open IoT platforms is open-source, open standards, open APIs, open data, and open layers.

Further, the social requirements for IoT platforms—to be ready to use, to have collaborative features and an active user community—have gained momentum in recent years. They have become another key criterion for a platform to be identified as an open IoT platform.

Other important aspects of the open IoT platform are the access to information, the rules that allow the usage of a platform (social), and the fee (license fee). 

Here is an overview of the major openness types.

Open-Source

The Open-Source Initiative (OSI) provides a clear definition and requirements for open-source. This includes free redistribution and access to source code — anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance code by complying with some basic principles The open-source IoT platform is often preferred as it is more convenient for third-party developers to have full access to the source code. 

Open Standards

Where device compatibility is a concern, users should consider open standards. Open standards provide support for heterogeneous devices and enable better interoperability. They promote flexibility, change, transparency, and user-centricity.

The OpenStand organization lists five fundamental principles for open standards. These are cooperation, adherence to the fundamental principles of standards development (due process, broad consensus, transparency, balance, openness), collective empowerment, availability, and voluntary adoption. 

Open APIs

These are publicly available application programming interfaces. They provide developers with access to a software application or to a web service. Open APIs (REST API) are typically used by third-party developers.

Open Data 

This openness criterion rests on the assumption that data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they see fit. There are no restrictions from copyright, patents, or similar mechanisms.

Open Layer 

This is the platform’s software layer that is open for third-party software integration. This allows you to integrate different third-party software (a capability also provided by open APIs). There is no consensus in the terminology here as most open APIs can also be treated as an open layer.

More transparency for system integrators

System integrators usually deal with complex IoT offerings. These encompass elements across the entire value chain such as sensors, IoT devices, connectivity, platform solutions, business logic, end-user applications, and users. In this sense, system integrators have a unique role in the world of IoT. They consolidate different elements of the value chain, including IoT platforms, to provide end-to-end IoT solutions.

System integrators have to navigate between different vendors, choose between various devices, and select suitable technologies. Depending on the specific use case, e.g. when the primary concern is compatibility, the choice of open standards may take precedence over other considerations.

Open standards also allow system integrators to switch between offerings with less effort. From the implementation perspective and depending on their specific requirements, open layer, open APIs, and open-source would be of precedence. And if the system integrators plan to build their own IoT platform as a solution, open-source will be a likely choice. 

The Record Evolution platform is an open IoT platform for industrial enterprises, enabling IoT teams to easily connect and manage devices, collect advanced data analytics, and program customized applications.

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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.