For something that is woven into the philosophy of the Internet of Things, large scale IoT deployments receive surprisingly little attention. Think about it: we want a world of connected devices that all speak to one another. Smart cities, smart cars, wearables and more. Unfortunately, many companies aren’t planning for these advancements in technology.
Many companies faced with the challenge of a large scale IoT project struggle to know where to start their planning. To assist companies with IoT project deployment, I’ve outlined key factors to consider before deploying an IoT project.
There are five pillars to any IoT project: devices, connectivity, device management, data processing, and application. It’s vital to consider these pillars before launching an IoT project. Large scale IoT deployments, in particular, come with their own set of challenges that could potentially put a business at risk.
Don’t Let Devices Lock You In
All IoT projects rely on devices. Any large scale IoT deployment will likely have a variety of new and legacy devices that use different technologies and serve multiple purposes ultimately reflecting the evolution of the IoT field and the scope of your deployment. Because of this, interoperability is key.
To keep IoT deployments afloat and avoid proprietary lock-in, it’s important not to sink your money into anything that works exclusively with only one vendor, one platform, or one technology. Otherwise, you may discover that you’ve been forever married to a proprietary solution that looked like a great idea a couple of years ago, but now isn’t compatible.
Maintain Connection Regardless of Circumstances
When choosing devices it’s vital to also consider connectivity. After all, the devices need to support your preferred connectivity standard. Many businesses don’t give connectivity a second thought and instead, settle for Wi-Fi or any other popular wireless technology. Meanwhile, your project might have very specific needs and require connectivity in areas where Wi-Fi isn’t available. Furthermore, your devices might be too resource-constrained to even use Wi-Fi. At this point, it may be in a business’s best interest to consider cellular connectivity, turning attention to cellular IoT. Low power consumption and long battery life of cellular connectivity will ensure devices are accessible almost everywhere.
Manage Devices Where They Are
When first deploying a project, it’s likely that only a small sample of devices are being used to test if a company is interested in truly pursuing a large-scale IoT deployment. When testing a small number of devices, a false send of safety may set in that your solution can be managed manually at scale. However, once a project has begun to scale, it’s impossible to perform even the most basic operations such as onboarding, configuration, security patches, maintenance, etc. manually if there are thousands of connected devices.
It’s also possible that some of the devices deployed are hard to reach. Perhaps you have devices six feet under the ground to collect soil data or devices in the ocean to track marine life. If this is the case, it may not be in a company’s interest to send out a technician when something goes wrong. In any case, even if the device is accessible, more likely than not, it’s still not worthwhile (financially) to send technicians when something goes wrong. However, without proper maintenance, these devices can become a major liability and a potential security threat that no company wants to be a part of.
When it comes to device management, it’s important to discuss the importance of connectivity and industry standards. The protocol stack chosen for device management can make or break a project. When it comes to protocols, regulated open standards are your safest bet–they have been developed with the IoT industry in mind, address its particular needs, and grow as the industry grows. The bigger your deployment, the more robust and flexible your device management solution needs to be so that you can handle anything coming your way–and this can only be secured with proper protocols.
Build a Comprehensive View With Data
Devices are constantly collecting data, or at least that’s generally the idea behind any IoT project. However, data is useless unless it’s aggregated and properly processed. Projects with a large scope tend to be parceled into smaller chunks under the pretense of being more manageable that way. While this may very well be true, the problem is, there is rarely any connection between these “silos.” Data from one system tends to stay within that system, even if it provides measurable value elsewhere.
When information doesn’t make its way through where it needs to, it leads to misinformation and wrong conclusions. So make sure all your data is in place and that you have a full picture of your project.
Last, but not least, is the application. Application is another way to describe a deployment or IoT project. IoT deployments are a bit like kids: small deployments–small problems; big deployments–big problems. When you have hundreds of thousands of devices with multiple sensors and actuators that collect heaps of data every second of every day, you’re bound to lose control quickly if you don’t have a platform to manage it all.
The platform you choose needs to be versatile to accommodate different solutions and flexible to adapt to future changes that are the one constant in the IoT industry. And remember, the platform should always work for your project, not the other way round, so make sure it’s tailored to your needs.
As you can see, large scale deployments require a lot of forethought and careful planning. But I don’t want you to make the mistake of going through my advice piece by piece, deciding on your “action plan” and setting it in stone.
The takeaway I want you to have is this: when planning an IoT deployment, you have to look at your project and consider all possible alternatives and outcomes, regardless of how daunting and troublesome a task it may seem. This should give you an idea of how many moving parts there are in your deployment and how quickly everything may change. And that is the best approach to large scale IoT deployments: plan for everything to change soon and be able to adapt quickly, whether you have a thousand uniform devices or a million different ones.