Enterprises deploying Internet of Things devices and accompanying software don't have to go it alone, but choosing a platform for building your applications is a big decision that's hard to reverse.
IoT analyst Dima Tokar adds that caveat when giving tips on what a company should look for in an AEP (application enablement platform), a set of middleware components that can make IoT rollouts easier. On Monday, the MachNation analyst released a report on the changing AEP landscape.
IoT can involve thousands of sensors and controls in things like engines, factory equipment and medical gear. But where it really gets complex is in connecting those devices to systems that can collect and analyze the incoming data and manage the whole thing. An AEP helps enterprises implement all those functions and write applications that ride on top of them for goals like running a more efficient business.
A lot depends on the choice of an AEP, because it's at the heart of a complex system that may extend across the company and remain in place for years.
"Middleware like an AEP is notoriously difficult to replace once it is in place," Tokar said via e-mail.
Because of that, enterprises should lay out their criteria and thoroughly investigate platforms based on both current and future development needs, he said.
Here are some important criteria:
- A flexible deployment model that allows for running the software on a shared or private cloud, in your own data center, or in a "fog computing" infrastructure on the edge of the network. A multi-tenant cloud hosted by the vendor is the most important option for most customers, Tokar said.
- A developer-friendly environment that includes publicly available APIs and a barrier-free way to try out the software before buying.
- A good network of system integrators and technology partners to turn to for help in implementing IoT. They can bring to bear best practices from earlier deployments, he said.
Tokar also cautioned that an AEP can't guarantee your whole IoT system is secure. The biggest danger is slipshod integration between components from different vendors, which can leave holes in the system that open it up to attack, he said.
Enterprises have a lot of AEP providers to choose from, including both specialist companies like Davra Networks and Cumulocity and some of the biggest companies in IT, such as IBM and General Electric.
As with any new technology, small vendors tend to do faster development and have flatter organizations so they're more approachable. Bigger ones offer more assurance they'll be around a while, Tokar said. "Since an AEP is a a choice of middleware, it's something you want to pick without worrying that you'll have to rip it out in several years."