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IoT Platform Solutions: Giving Business a Digital Voice

The use of passive sensors, including RFID tags, will play a critical role as companies transition to the digital business era, but adopters are faced with a range of choices.
By Dr. Ramin Sadr

Moving forward, we will continue to see a great deal of innovation in sensor technology at a brisk pace. There will be a world of heterogeneous sensor networks, as there is no such thing as a single "panacea" sensor to solve all problems. At the device level, there is rapid ongoing progress in nanotechnology and condensed matter physics to offer printable sensors with batteries, transducing different forms of energy from one type to another, such as mechanical to electrical and chemical to electrical. These new generations of sensors will shorten the product lifecycles of existing generations. With the rapidly evolving IoT landscape, a buyer is compelled to use best-of-breed technology in remote sensing. Suppliers need to assure buyers that they will support new and emerging sensor types, to prevent their being boxed in with a single technology with no viable upgrade path.

Passive sensors that harvest energy to operate will be instrumental in transitioning from an analog to digital business era. Passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID technology has matured throughout the past decade to reliably unleash the digital identity of any physical asset, on demand and over the air. In a fully digitized enterprise, every physical asset—from conference rooms and hotel rooms to cars and warehouse bays—can autonomously report capacity, utilization and availability in real time.

With the fusion of active sensor types (ranging from cameras to simple Bluetooth devices) with passive sensors and RFID tags, machine-to-machine (M2M) interaction is changing business processes well beyond industrial instrumentation. With physical objects sensing their environment and communicating their state, software platforms can make intelligent, autonomous decisions based on real-time spatial-temporal events. In most applications, sensor fusion is formed by a dedicated server at the edge of a network, sometimes referred to as an IoT gateway, for the purpose of "fog computing" (a term coined by Cisco). A buyer needs to evaluate the total cost of ownership for enterprise-wide deployment for a total solution. The overall cost is largely driven by the suite of software components to complete an end-to-end solution.

Buyer Considerations: Security and Hosted Services
Many companies currently offer cloud-hosted middleware for the IoT, as well as some on-premise software solutions. These offerings bridge the sensor data stream from the sensor layer to enterprise back-end ERP/CRM systems. When choosing a cloud-hosted solution, a buyer must take into account some key considerations.

One key concern with using the IoT has been security. For a bulletproof system, an enterprise can choose an on-premises option, in which all data is collected and maintained locally on each single site in a classified militarized zone or fully decoupled subnets. With the right choice of software, authentication and access control may be enforced even at the finest granular level of each flow sourced by every sensor.

After more than a decade of effort by open source and industry, big data architecture for storing large volumes of unstructured data has been solved. Options range from hosted big-data services, from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft or Google, to open-source options such as Apache Hadoop for storing and processing data up to web scale. There is also an emerging trend for distributed sensor databases residing at the edge of a network and accessed only on an as-needed basis across an enterprise. Buyers should select a supplier to provide them with a migration path to distributed databases as their business needs evolve.

During the past four years, cloud computing has undergone an accelerating growth cycle, primarily catalyzed by the open-source community and growing demands for different types and classes of web hosting services. In legacy cloud-computing software services for virtualization, physical hardware is dedicated with pre-defined memory size and computing resources to application software. The extension of ideas in hypervisor in the Unix operating system has ignited a paradigm change with the introduction of the Docker container. Instead of hardware virtualization, a new approach is centered on virtualizing the components of the application software itself.

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