In this second installment of the Internet of Things, we are going to focus on the IoT architecture. The IoT architecture consists of 4 main layers – devices, networks and gateways, management and application. Let’s take a look into each of these layers in more detail.
Devices Layer: This layer is comprised of sensors, actuators, RFID etc. Sensors are used to detect and transmit data regarding location, movement, temperature, humidity and more. Sensors are typically powered by batteries that can last for months or even years. Ideally, sensors will have unique IPv6 addresses for identification and communication. IPv6 uses a 128-bit address schema and thus can allow 228 or 340 trillion trillion trillion devices!
RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are sensors that are commonly used to track objects in logistics and transportation. RFID chips are typically passive – they don’t have batteries but draw power from the RFID reader using built-in antennas8.
NFC is a unique version of RFID where the devices have to be very close to each other, in the order of few centimeters. If you ever used Apple Pay or Google Wallet, you have used NFC.
Networks and Gateways: IoT often requires unique networks and protocols in order to deal with devices that have limited power and need to wirelessly transmit data over a very short range.
In a typical IoT environment, there is a WPAN (Wireless Personal Area Network) that connects the IoT devices. Apart from Wi-Fi or cellular networks, this layer can also use protocols such as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee or 6LowPAN – all of which fall under IEEE 802.15.4 specification. BLE, also called Bluetooth Smart uses less than half the energy as the standard Bluetooth protocol. Zigbee is better than Bluetooth in situations where hundreds or thousands of devices have to be managed in a WPAN. Zigbee can also drastically extend battery life by using sleep mode in devices. 6LowPAN is a long acronym that stands for IPv6 for Low power Personal Are Network. 6LowPAN9 is a newer technology that allows individual devices to have IPv6 addresses, and thus enables the devices to directly communicate with the internet.
IoT vendors use many other protocols, including proprietary ones, which is a huge challenge in operation and management. As the IoT industry matures, these problems will go away because of standardization and better interoperability. Gateways sit in between the internet and the WPAN. They aggregate and filter the data from various devices and send it to the cloud. They also protect the IoT devices from intruders. Star, P2P, Mesh and Cluster Tree are some of the network topologies that are used to connect the devices. The appropriate topology is chosen based on the communication protocol and the overall architecture.
Management Layer: This layer includes the cloud storage platform to store data and software tools to manage, monitor and secure the IoT devices and network. The cloud platform may need to be flexible enough to handle not only HTTP but also other protocols such as MQTT and CoAP – lightweight, open standard protocols for small devices10. Other functions of this layer can include billing, data mining, in-memory analytics, predictive analytics, access control, encryption, business rules management (BRM), and business process management (BPM).
Applications layer: The applications provide the interface and tools to the end user whose needs may vary widely. The application may be a website where a doctor logs in to check the status of his elderly patients who are monitored by wearable devices; it may be a smartphone app that someone uses to turn on the thermostat at home; or it may be an insurance company that uses a SaaS application to run queries on driving habits of customers with connected cars. There are many companies such as Xively and ThingWorkx that offer IoT platforms to enable quick development of applications.
IoT has already started to make an impact in almost every aspect of the economy – consumer electronics, home appliances, healthcare, retail, logistics, transportation, surveillance, industrial control, agriculture, and environment are just a few examples where smart devices are bringing about a consequential paradigm shift. All these extraordinary changes also mean incredible opportunities for technology companies, whether they make low-cost devices, provide massively scalable cloud platforms, or create IoT applications and platforms. Let EMC help position your company to successfully ride the wave of IoT by visiting www.emc.com/getecs.