IoT Device Management: Solutions, Architecture, Challenges, and Security

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IoT ecosystems can contain dozens and even hundreds of IoT devices installed in remote areas, and it’s easy to lose track of them. Find out how to manage your IoT devices remotely and keep your IoT system effective and secure

IoT devices are the primary units of any IoT system. They can be scattered across large or small territories, depending on their type. IoT systems of different scales include: 

  • Smart homes
  • Smart buildings
  • Smart farms
  • Smart factories
  • Smart businesses
  • Smart cities

The devices used in these IoT systems come in all shapes and forms, and each has its own goals, functions, and service lives. The most popular types of devices are:

  • Smart cameras and doorbells
  • Temperature, humidity, and CO2 concentration sensors
  • Smart valves
  • Thermostats
  • Leak sensors
  • Medical sensors
  • Fire alarms
  • Robots and drones
  • Voice controllers
  • Air quality monitors

Devices from different manufacturers are often used together within one ecosystem, along with different connectivity protocols. Devices also have different service lives, so it’s important to track their performance and replace them on time. 

Some users of IoT systems prefer on-premises management. However, IoT remote management is a must for IoT devices because they often are located in places that make it inconvenient to check on them in person. 

In this article, I’ll talk about IoT app development and remote IoT device management solutions, including different tools and IoT device management platforms that allow users to control IoT devices.

What is IoT device management?

IoT device management is the process of overseeing IoT devices in a way that keeps the whole system running and secure. This involves activities such as:

  • Provisioning
  • Authentication
  • Maintenance
  • Monitoring
  • Updating
  • Connecting new devices
  • Decommissioning devices
  • Checking security

Because each device is a potential entry point for hackers, it’s critical that each part of the IoT ecosystem (e.g. each device) is kept up to date, connected, and secure.

There are different ways to organize IoT device management. Let’s first review what exactly it means to manage devices and which steps are involved, then talk about ways to manage devices remotely. 

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IoT device management lifecycle

The device management lifecycle is reflected in the IoT device management features, so let’s look at it in detail.

Onboarding

As your IoT ecosystem grows, you need to add more devices and replace those reaching the end of their service lives. Each device you add needs to be properly connected to your system. During onboarding, you should check device security. 

Device authentication is probably the most important part of the onboarding process, as it ensures security and correct functionality. During authentication, a device provides its credentials to the server and receives confirmation and configuration data. The most common ways to authenticate an IoT device are using device certificates and pre-shared keys.

Configuration

Now that your device is up and running, you may think you can leave it and let it work in your system. However, most smart devices require additional tuning according to your specific needs. Most smart device manufacturers leave space for configuration, and the way devices are preconfigured from the factory may not suit your system. 

That’s why configuring your smart devices is important for IoT device management: by doing this correctly, you’ll be able to get the most out of your devices and control the behavior of your smart ecosystem even in the event that issues unexpectedly turn up. 

Configuring devices may be a tedious task if you change the settings in each device separately. This is where grouping comes into play. Your IoT system or IoT platform should have grouping capabilities so you can simultaneously configure all devices in the system.

Maintenance

Though IoT devices are autonomous, you can’t leave them to work until they die. You need to maintain your software responsible for the connection. This includes fixing bugs, adapting devices to support new functionality, updating third-party software, and running regular security checks. 

Usually, IoT device management companies create software that offers mechanisms for over-the-air updates so you don’t need to do anything with the device in the field to keep it secure and updated.

FOTA (firmware-over-the-air) and SOTA (software-over-the-air) are the two main ways to update devices remotely. SOTA is more suitable for IoT systems.

Diagnostics

Your IoT device management software should provide you with various diagnostic features and tools. Diagnostics allow you to decrease device downtime and find hidden bugs or operational issues that influence the device and the accuracy of the data it provides.

Diagnostics is a part of predictive IoT device management that allows you to find problems before they start affecting your business. What are the most useful diagnostic tools for IoT? 

Network statistics and analytics helps you detect security breaches and predict data overloads that can cause system failure. A good IoT management system will have comprehensive analytics that will generate useful insights on how each device works. 

End of lifecycle

Each device in your IoT system sooner or later will reach the end of its lifecycle. Some devices may be damaged in the field, while others may simply get to the end of their service lives and need to be replaced. 

Devices that no longer work properly need to be decommissioned and replaced. To do that securely and avoid data leaks or system downtime, your Internet of Things management platform should run tests before and after a device is put out of exploitation.

Now, let’s look at the IoT device management challenges.

Challenges of IoT device management

Security

Security is the biggest challenge for IoT technology in general, and device management is what makes security tricky. You need to always keep your devices updated and well-tested so they don’t become entry points for hackers. But with thousands of devices in one system, maintaining their security can be overwhelming.

Device management platforms use advanced analytics, automated testing, diagnostics, and high-end technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and the blockchain to ensure the security of devices and prevent data leaks. 

Analysis needs to happen in real time, and staff need to be notified each time an analytics tool notices a device malfunction. Security vulnerabilities unfortunately happen often in IoT systems, which is why maintenance and testing is challenging.

Different lifespans

Device lifespans can vary widely depending on the type of device, its goals, and its technical capabilities. This makes it hard to maintain IoT devices. Manufacturers don’t help either. They mostly produce devices with short lifespans, especially if those devices are resource-constrained and have limited processing and storage capacity.

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IoT management solutions

There are different approaches to IoT device management. Traditionally, IoT device management systems use M2M services to provide connections between all devices. Some approaches use blockchain technology and secure TCP-based services like secure shell (SSH) or remote desktop (VNC, RDP). The variety of platforms for IoT device management is vast, and all of them are based on different technologies.

Device management platforms help with provisioning, authentication, management, and remote configuration of IoT devices

In this article, I’ll review off-the-shelf solutions for IoT device management that exist within most IoT platforms. There are regular IoT platforms, industrial IoT platforms, and also device management platforms (DMPs). Their functionalities often overlap, and all good IoT platforms allow businesses to remotely manage their IoT device fleets. 

Device management platforms help with provisioning, authentication, management, and remote configuration of IoT devices as well as the reporting and collection of data, real-time monitoring and over-the-air updates, patches, and so on. Onboarding and decommissioning can also be done through DMPs.

How to choose an IoT management platform for your business

There are hundreds of IoT management platforms with device management functionality that use different technologies and protocols and are compatible with particular IoT devices. Let’s talk about the most important criteria to consider when choosing an IoT management platform, as changing platforms can be extremely hard.

  1. Device compatibility

The IoT industry suffers from a lack of regulation and standardization. Each manufacturer uses different approaches to building and supporting their devices. IoT management platforms do their best to be compatible with as many devices as possible — at least with the most common — but there are very few platforms that can offer universal compatibility. Consider which devices from which manufacturers you will use most often and choose a platform that supports them.

  1. Usability and accessibility

Consider how convenient it is to use the platforms you’ve shortlisted and how much training your staff will need to operate the system. Systems that manage a large number of devices can sometimes be overly complex and not intuitive, so I’d advise you to request a demo from a platform vendor.

A dashboard in your IoT device management system should clearly present the data and make device management easy for your staff

When it comes to settings and customization, find out if a platform requires extensive coding capabilities to change anything. If you have your own IT department that keeps your IoT system running, this won’t be a problem, but maybe you need more accessibility for your staff that doesn’t code.

  1. Open-source or paid

Both paid and open-source IoT device management tools and platforms are popular and valid options. Paid platforms usually have customer support and a wide variety of services, but open-source platforms allow for more customization, assuming you have a good development team available. Also, open-source platforms may lag a bit when new functionality is rolled out. 

If you lean towards an open-source platform, make sure it’s popular and that many developers contribute to it and resolve issues. However, with any open-source solution, you’ll need an IoT expert on the spot to help you deploy changes and support the system.

  1. Automation and unification

Your device management platform should have automated management functionality, as it will make it easier for you to scale your IoT system. A platform should be able to unify hundreds and even thousands of devices and minimize the resources you need to manually update and manage them. 

An IoT platform should be able to unify different types of devices from different manufacturers and vendors and across different locations

It will be perfect if the platform also doesn’t require lots of coding knowledge, or else you’ll need to involve developers for every little change.

  1. Security

Security is paramount for any IoT device management platform, so you need to make sure your platform adds specific IoT security layers and features to protect both individual devices and the network. Devices often act merely as entry points to the system, so the platform should prevent a breach from spreading across devices and reaching the server.

Now, let’s briefly review the most popular IoT device management platforms you can shortlist for your own business.

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Top 10 IoT device management platforms

There are hundreds of IoT platforms, both paid and open-source. In this article, I’ll show you the 10 most popular IoT platforms that are focused on device management.

Watson IoT platform

device management platform iot

The IBM Watson IoT platform is a cloud-based IoT solution that has all the functionality to allow you to manage your devices. This includes device connectivity, control, configuration management, and analytics visualization. The three core features of the Watson IoT platform are: 

  • Real-time analytics
  • Blockchain service
  • Resource optimization

According to reviews, the Watson IoT Platform is easy to integrate with various IoT devices that use different data types and connection protocols. It also has a centralized dashboard where you can see all IoT devices at once. 

On the downside, the user interface in the billing and administrative tools can seem inconvenient to some users, and IBM support may not react as quickly as you’d like — and setting up the system will definitely require IBM support.

Upswift

iot device configuration management

Upswift is a great device management tool that doesn’t require advanced IoT skills to use. It works with Linux devices and allows you to deploy over-the-air updates and remotely monitor and control your devices. The onboarding process for Upswift is extremely simple: you can connect any device in just a minute.

Upswift monitors devices in real time and will alert you if any of your devices go offline or overheat, which will help you react to issues at once.

Particle

iot device management architecture

Particle is an open-source device management IoT platform that allows you to control all devices from a control panel. It works in over 150 countries, having a large reach, and businesses use it to build interactive APIs. 

Particle allows you to send over-the-air updates to a whole fleet of IoT devices without disrupting their work: if a device is busy, it will be updated later.

Particle offers a great interface for controlling and managing the Internet of Things devices, and it provides users with clear and visual analytics. 

Azure IoT Hub

iot device security management

Microsoft offers one of the best iot device management software in the industry. Azure from Microsoft is a cloud-based IoT management system that allows you to connect practically any device, accepting a variety of data formats and device manufacturers.

Azure IoT Hub covers everything from device authentication and provisioning to remote control and end-to-end security. Security is one of the selling points for Azure IoT Hub. It also provides great documentation and easy implementation. 

SAP Leonardo IoT

iot remote device management

SAP Leonardo IoT is an IoT system that’s perfect for manufacturers that need a highly secure inventory management tool. SAP Leonardo IoT is on the cutting edge, offering machine learning, big data, IoT, and blockchain technologies to help you collect and analyze data from all your sensors and monitor your devices and assets in real time. 

Leonardo helps businesses quickly react to any changes in device states and notify staff if equipment needs repairs or maintenance. SAP Leonardo IoT can also be integrated with many other platforms, and the company provides great customer service.

ThingWorx

iot gateway device management

ThingWorx is a cloud-based IoT development platform that merged with Axeda Machine Cloud in 2014. Now it offers IoT device management functionality for industrial IoT solutions. ThingWorx aggregates data from production controllers, monitors them, and notifies users of any unusual behavior. 

ThingWorx is easy to couple with devices and integrate with other services. It has an intuitive interface and can handle any data type. 

AWS IoT Core

iot device management protocol

AWS IoT Core is a cloud IoT service that allows devices to connect with applications and exchange data between them and the cloud. AWS IoT Core connects with all Amazon services and allows them to build IoT apps that use data generated by IoT devices. 

With AWS IoT Core, you can create IoT products by choosing any devices and hardware platforms without having to manage the infrastructure. 

Businesses use AWS IoT Core to connect their IoT apps to cloud-based services, build and test IoT devices, host asset management software, and manage devices remotely. 

Some users say that AWS servers don’t always respond or don’t provide the necessary performance, but AWS is still one of the most popular IoT platforms and has great infrastructure.

Final thoughts

In this article you’ve learnt how to manage IoT devices and what solutions the IoT device management market offers to businesses. Devices are the most important part of an IoT system, and their management defines how effectively your whole IoT network works. You can create your own device management software, or you can use an off-the-shelf platform that helps you integrate different devices into one system and integrate services you already use. 

When choosing a platform, pay extra attention to compatibility, security, the quality of documentation, customer support, and automation functionality. A good platform for IoT system management will allow you to control and manage your devices remotely as well as deploy OTA updates to all devices at once.

At Mobindustry, we have helped multiple businesses earn money and optimize their operations using IoT technologies. If you want to power your business with the latest technology but don’t know where to start and how much it will cost, contact us.

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