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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: