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Brokerage and Asset Management

IoT Device Management

IoT Device management refers to all of the tools, capabilities and processes necessary to support IoT solutions effectively at scale. Included are processes like quickly and securely onboarding new devices, automatically identifying device issues, etc. This new series argues that we need new and better contextually-based device management solutions as business leaders build, buy, and/or implement IoT solutions with up to thousands or millions of IoT devices.

Effective IoT device management is a foundational element for any successful IoT solution. All the major cloud providers include it in their IoT platform offerings. Whether it’s Google with IoT Core, Microsoft with Azure IoT Hub, or Amazon with AWS IoT, their device management offerings enable IoT solutions providers quickly and securely to provision, authenticate, configure, control, monitor, and maintain the IoT devices used in their solutions.

IoT Device Management
IoT Device Management

This post is to illustrate the need for a new kind of device management as business leaders like you build, buy, and/or implement IoT solutions with up to thousands or millions of IoT devices.

We can call the IoT device management described above “Basic IoT Device Management” because this kind of device management is table stakes for any IoT solution. However, what is becoming increasingly important for massive-scale IoT solutions, is what we can call “Contextual IoT Device Management.”

Basic IoT Device Management

Provisioning and Authentication

When adding new IoT devices, you want to make sure that only trusted, secure devices can be added. You wouldn’t want bad actors to be able to connect devices to your IoT solution that aren’t genuine, aren’t running trusted software, or aren’t working on the behalf of a trusted user.

  • Provisioning is the process of enrolling a device into the system.
  • Authentication is a step in that process of provisioning whereby you verify that only devices with the proper credentials get enrolled.

Configuration and Control

Devices are imperfect when they’re deployed out in the field. After deployment, there may be configurable device settings that you want to adjust over time. Such as decreasing the frequency with which your trackers report position messages to increase battery life.

The ability to configure and control devices even after deployment is therefore critical to ensuring functionality, improving performance, and protecting from security threats. You may also want the ability to reset devices to their factory default configuration when you decommission them.

Monitoring and Diagnostics

There are few things to note before configuring certain device settings. There may also be unforeseen operational issues and/or software bugs that you’ll need to address. But to address them, you need to identify them in the first place.

If there is higher-than-normal CPU utilization, it is essential to proactively identify and diagnose potential bugs/issues. Device management software can provide program logs needed to make diagnoses.

Software Maintenance and Updates

If you identify a bug with your devices or a security flaw, pdate device software (or even firmware). With thousands or millions of devices, getting physical access to each device to update them manually just isn’t practically possible. If physical access is required, your IoT solution may be doomed. Else, at least very brittle and precarious in the long run.

The ability to update and maintain remote device software securely is thus one of the most important components of good device management.

Contextual IoT Device Management

While Basic IoT Device Management was once deprioritized by many IoT solution providers (since such functionalities didn’t provide short-term differentiation for IoT solutions), as the IoT industry continues to mature, these functionalities are becoming fundamental. All the major cloud providers (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) now include Basic IoT Device Management as part of their IoT offerings. Nonetheless, Basic IoT Device Management isn’t enough.

Why the Basics Aren’t Enough

Device management originated within IT departments managing computing resources inside their organizations. It evolved with the rise of mobile, which necessitated mobile device management (MDM). Now, with the thousand to millions of devices within just a single IoT solution, new challenges call for new approaches.

Past approaches to device management were built on the presumption of persistent and stable device connectivity, often with relatively high bandwidth. For example, the Monitoring and Diagnostics section above references monitoring CPU usage and downloading program logs from devices to diagnose issues. However, with IoT we’re seeing IoT solutions that can involve thousand to millions of devices for which persistent connectivity and high bandwidth are far from the norm.

IoT solutions can vary greatly depending on their application. Some of these IoT solutions do involve high bandwidth and persistent connectivity but many don’t. Take agricultural IoT applications as an example; you may have thousands of sensors, in remote locations across an agricultural property. Example: temperature, soil moisture, sunlight, equipment asset trackers, etc. For all of these sensors, long battery life becomes a critical functionality, because: 

  • Dont plug devices into an electricity source in the middle of a field.
  • Replacing batteries frequently for thousands of devices would represent a massive operational (and therefore financial) burden that would make a good return-on-investment (ROI) impossible.