The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to connect everything to, well, everything else. But for this dream to become a reality, it needs robust cloud platforms that will power the connectivity.
The good news is that startups are springing up to supply platform as a service (PaaS) products for the IoT market. The less good news is that this is a market with a lot of "must haves," warned Adam Lesser, an analyst with GigaOm, in his report "IoT platforms: An emerging market." Lesser said that IoT PaaS providers will need to address a laundry list of features to be successful: hardware form factor, security, scalability, analytics, cost and the ability to offer an end-to-end product. But in this emerging market, many platforms offer only a few of these features.
To better understand what's available, here is a look at four relatively new entrants into the IoT PaaS market. Each offers a different approach to the IoT challenge.
Ayla Networks: One size can fit all
Launching new products in the IoT space doesn't have to be difficult, according to Rod McLane, senior product marketing manager for Ayla Networks. The company's secret? No custom code. "We wanted to make it as easy for manufacturers to create devices as possible," McLane said. So, the company offered its license-free software to a variety of semiconductor companies. The result is an off-the-shelf chip with an easy-to-connect cloud software stack built in.
Ayla's one-size-fits-all PaaS was created to be run on AWS. Ayla's chief technology officer was one of the creators of Amazon's popular Kindle, so it is not surprising the companies have a close relationship. "It's a good, stable platform and we have all the scalability we need on AWS," McLane said.
McLane said that although Ayla Networks arrived in the market somewhat later than other players, the timing has been an advantage because the company has been able to use the most cutting-edge technology. As a result, he said, customers have been able to get products to market faster -- for example, an appliance manufacturer was able to develop a working prototype in six days using the company's software embedded chips and PaaS. And Ayla has also been able to use the latest advances in security technology. Every device has a unique security key and takes advantage of a unique VPN role-based security access control to ensure that, for example, someone installing a smart-home appliance will have access when necessary, but won't be able to return later and break in.
Carriots: Start connecting devices for free
From a straightforward start connecting vending machines, Spain-based Carriots has created an easy-to-use PaaS that lets any developer connect any device to another device and then to the cloud. And it is offered for free, said CEO Miguel Castillo Holgado. Up to 10 users in a company can use the Carriots PaaS for free; after that, companies pay only for the services they use.
The five-step process is simple, Holgado explained. Users start by connecting the desired devices to the cloud platform; then they can use the Carriots RESTful API to push or pull encoded XML or JSON data. Using two-way communication protocols, a developer can create rules for the device; then the entire process can be scaled up to millions of devices.
Carriots runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform for developers wanting a public cloud, but Holgado said the PaaS is also available for licensing in a private cloud. "We have really tried to be flexible," Holgado said. "We want to give customers freedom and flexibility on the way our platform connects and the way it supports machine learning." He said Carriots differs from many other IoT PaaS offerings because it is easy to build a custom front end on top of the Carriot platform, giving users exactly the experience they want, along with the power of the underlying technology.
That's particularly important today, Holgado added, because "there are a lot of flavors of IoT." The company has had a lot of success introducing technology into sectors that he described as "not very technology aware," including everything from beer brewers to companies manufacturing coffee makers.
Xively by Logmein: A jump start to the cloud
At Xively, it's all about the connections. The company saw a gap in the market for a PaaS that would quickly connect customers, products and manufacturers, together and to each other, and with sufficient security, said Sean Lorenz, senior product marketing manager at Xively.
"The challenge is determining all the points and systems where access to data is needed," Lorenz said, adding that, of course, people need access, too. Using the example of a smart garage door, the installer needs access, but only for a limited amount of time for security purposes. And then there are all the manufacturer's systems that need access: CRM, ERP and Salesforce, just to name a few. In addition, there is the challenge of identification access management. In other words, Lorenz said, it's complicated. So, the Xively PaaS is aimed at making it easier for companies to create all the connections on the Xively developer workbench and then track all the moving parts using the management console.
The next step, though, will be tying in analytics. "Companies are going to need reporting analysis and anomaly detection," Lorenz said. "That's a valuable next iteration."
Axiros: Making sense of the data
Germany-based Axiros is new to the IoT market but not at all a startup, said Vice President of Customer Solutions Alfeo Pareschi. And because the company has been in the telecommunications industry for 12 years, it has a track record of connection and communication.
The company's Axperience platform was created to allow customers to connect any device to any service using any protocol at any time, Pareschi explained. Axperience was designed for remote support, data collection and analytics, as well as automatic service activation. Using portable embedded software and dynamic Web APIs, the platform is targeted at governments, enterprises, utilities and telecommunications companies looking to manage and monitor IoT devices. "We're offering a solution that lets large companies stay in control of their IoT efforts," Pareschi said.
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