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Benefits of an open source approach to IoT application enablement

Enterprises and service providers building IoT solutions evaluate myriad software and hardware options to assemble an IoT stack. Typically, middleware requirements are met by using an IoT application enablement platform (AEP). AEPs are a fundamental building block and interface with almost every component in the system, including enterprise back ends, IoT devices and ancillary services.

Enterprises and service providers selecting an IoT AEP have to choose between selecting a commercial AEP or an open source AEP. Here I will discuss five benefits of selecting an open source AEP to satisfy middleware requirements of an IoT solution.

Introduction

The typical IoT technology stack is fairly complex and includes hardware, connectivity, platforms, applications and services. One of the most critical components of an IoT solution is an AEP.

MachNation definition: An IoT AEP is a technology-centric offering optimized to deliver a best-of-breed, industry-agnostic, extensible middleware core for building a set of interconnected or independent IoT solutions for customers. An AEP vendor relies on a flexible deployment model, a comprehensive set of device and enterprise back-end connector SDKs and APIs, and a set of well-documented developer resources. AEP vendors assemble a network of application development, system integrator and service provider partners that build custom IoT applications on the platform for customers.

AEPs are one of the fastest-growing technology segments within the IoT ecosystem. According to MachNation forecasts, worldwide IoT application enablement revenue will be $2 billion in 2017, growing to $83.4 billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate of 62% over the period.

The rapid growth of AEPs is a testament to the value of a horizontal platform. According to MachNation research, enterprises and service providers often analyze the capabilities of 20 or more AEPs and then conduct extensive AEP technology comparisons and trials before selecting a preferred AEP vendor. Customers realize that selecting the right AEP from the beginning is especially important because a properly chosen horizontal AEP can easily support multiple IoT solutions and use cases.

Open source AEPs have some of distinct advantages over commercial AEPs. Next, I discuss five high-value benefits in more detail.

Benefit #1: Richness of the ecosystem

Open source projects tend to have more success gaining market traction and adoption than commercial systems because of the nature of the open source ecosystem.

Developers and integrators form a large network of experts that know how to assemble open source technologies into solutions.

Software communities, comprised of large numbers of volunteers, contribute to the ecosystem often for personal reasons or because they have reaped the benefits of the community in the past. Sometimes these communities volunteer on a quid pro quo basis — trading expertise with other community members.

Large enterprises that benefit from open source initiatives tend to support the overall ecosystem with commercial contracts and code contributions.

Open source projects tend to attract the types of developers and integrators that value a collaborative and open approach to development, whereas the technical expertise for commercial systems is largely confined within a vendor’s organization for all but the most successful products. Finding a partner to develop on top of or to manage an open source stack is easier as the available talent pool is often significantly larger.

Benefit #2: Best-in-class security

Open source components are revered for their security characteristics.

Security auditing in the open source model is very strong. The open source model enables developers, quality assurance teams and independent security researchers to conduct security audit and testing at multiple levels including source code, system and system of systems. This enables a much deeper and complete analysis of potential vulnerabilities and provides the greatest level of transparency from a security standpoint.

There are often more and better security technologists involved in open source projects. In an open source platform, or in any other open source projects, security vulnerabilities are identified by the community. Since open source projects are frequently used by very large enterprises, there is a team of leading security researchers working to identify and report vulnerabilities before hackers do. For platforms built by niche software vendors, it is unlikely that many independent security professionals are involved. Rather it is a vendor’s employees that are tasked with ensuring the platform is secure. In such a scenario, there may be fewer reported vulnerabilities due to oversights or “security by obscurity.”

Open source platforms allow vulnerabilities to be patched as soon as they are identified. Since each deployment has full control over the source code, it is possible to mitigate risks without waiting for a vendor to issue a fix. This is of particular importance for enterprises and service providers that opt for a private cloud or on-premises deployment that requires a vendor to create and deliver a fix before anything can be done.

Benefit #3: Unrivaled flexibility

Open source platforms provide enterprises with flexibility to deploy software that meets business needs. Unlike commercial products which have to tailor to many interests, open source software has no commercial agenda. In many cases, core changes to functionality of a commercial product are simply not feasible without engaging the vendor. Thus, commercial solutions require that customers align themselves with the priorities of the vendor. In the cases where a vendor is unwilling to modify a product, the enterprise has no choice but to rely on costly professional services.

With open source software, an enterprise can begin development where the community has left off and make necessary modifications and amendments to refine the software to deliver on the entire set of business requirements. If the software is missing functionality out of the box or doesn’t work exactly as intended, an enterprise can assign resources or use the ecosystem of partners to deliver on the additional requirements.

Benefit #4: Ability to future-proof

By their very nature, open source platforms provide strong mechanisms for future-proofing middleware to adapt to changing requirements and market needs.

First, open source AEP solutions are fairly easy to maintain if there is a disruption in the community. Open source AEPs are community-maintained and a third party can take over an AEP deployment project or ongoing management at virtually anytime. Among commercial software stacks, it is entirely common for platform vendors to come and go. The consolidation within the IoT space suggests that many platform vendors that exist today are unlikely to be around 3-5 years from now as they will either cease to exist or be acquired by a large player that may or may not maintain the same product development priorities.

Second, migration to newer and better application enablement approaches is easier in the open source model. The large user base of open source software increases the likelihood that a migration path will be available for deployed open source AEP solutions. Migration from a commercial AEP system is a complex process. Commercial software vendors — even those building extensible software — still benefit from a certain level of vendor lock-in. This is especially true for middleware solutions that provide core functionality tightly integrated northbound and southbound in the technology stack.

Benefit #5: Favorable financials

While there is much debate on the TCO of open versus commercial software, open source software has no upfront software costs or recurring upgrade costs. As a result of the advantageous and highly scalable pricing model, some of the world’s largest technology companies base their core business technologies on open source software. It can be more cost-effective and allows businesses to scale their operations while reducing fixed and variable fees tied to infrastructure decisions.

Conclusion

Enterprises and service providers invest tremendous time and money in selecting the right type of AEP for their IoT solutions. Choosing the right horizontal solution can empower the efficient and secure creation of many IoT solutions across many use cases. Enterprises and service providers that pick open source AEP technology do so for the richness of the ecosystem, best-in-class security, unrivaled flexibility, ability to future-proof the solution and favorable financial characteristics.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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