IoT Scalability Issues: 5 Essential Considerations
There’s a lot that goes into getting an IoT project off the ground, but it doesn’t always result in success. Indeed, the new IoT Signals report by Microsoft found out that nearly one-third of projects fail in the proof-of-concept (PoC) stage. Various technical and organizational factors weigh in, but the leading cause pertains to the inability to justify the cost of scaling IoT.
It goes without saying that there’s a huge difference in deploying and managing a few devices versus thousands or even tens of thousands of devices. A PoC certainly helps bring all the moving pieces together to get the first big picture of the overall solution. Still, many technical requirements for overcoming IoT scalability issues in the future might not be considered even when the PoC turns out to be a success. The transition from a PoC to a full-scale roll-out can only come off, if scalability is planned from day one.
Technical complexity is one of the greatest IoT scalability issues. As such, choosing the right technology with the right architecture is paramount to safeguard the long-term viability of your connected system. In this blog, we discuss five essential considerations you should look into when planning for large-scale IoT implementation.
1. Large Wireless System Capacity
With the breakneck speed of innovation that’s happening in the IoT space, you want to make sure your wireless system can nimbly accommodate a fast-growing number of endpoints that arrive down the line. Such network expansion must not come at the cost of message delivery and Quality-of-Service, especially when it comes to mission-critical commercial and industrial use cases. The underlying wireless technology largely dictates this.
The massive deluge of data traffic imposes great bandwidth challenges, as devices within and across systems vie for their place in the radio spectrum. Dependable indicators like the number of daily messages that can be handled per gateway can help you evaluate the scalability of a wireless solution. Concurrently, with sub-GHz radio technology, you can segregate IoT networks from other 2.4 GHz legacy systems to mitigate jitter and congestion issues. Above all, a solution purpose-built for interference immunity is key to overcoming IoT scalability issues pertaining to reliable network operation in a crowded spectrum.
2. Simplified Network Planning and Setup
Piggybacking back on the previous point, many wireless technologies might promise to support thousands of devices per gateway. Still, reality could look very different. As soon as a large number of endpoints need to be integrated, the complexity in network planning and configuration can quickly inflate to the point of being unmanageable. This challenge often comes with multi-hop mesh solutions.
Given the short radio range of many mesh protocols, you need to ensure devices are well distributed and repeaters are employed as required for the transmission link to work. Adding moving nodes can further make network performance unpredictable. And troubleshooting is especially challenging due to the complex traffic flows. If you want your IoT at scale with minimum complications, a star topology network is most likely in your best interest.
3. Interoperable Architecture
Each IoT system is a mashup of heterogeneous components and technologies. This diversity makes interoperability a prerequisite for IoT scalability, to avoid being saddled with an obsolete system that fails to keep pace with new innovation later on. By designing interoperable architecture from the get-go, you can counter fragmentation and reduce the integration costs of your IoT project in the long run.
Today, technology standards exist to foster horizontal interoperability by fueling global cross-vendor support through robust, transparent and consistent technology specifications. For example, a standard-based wireless protocol allows you to benefit from a growing portfolio of off-the-shelf hardware across industry domains. When it comes to vertical interoperability, versatile APIs and open messaging protocols act as the glue to connect the edge network with a multitude of value-deriving backend applications. Leveraging these open interfaces, you can also scale your IoT deployment across locations and seamlessly aggregate data across premises.
4. Remote Network and Device Management
As the network quickly grows, a manual approach to deploying, managing and maintaining devices simply won’t cut it. Not to mention, many devices are deployed at remote, far-flung or attended locations where technicians or employees often don’t set foot in. For successful IoT scalability, network and device management can’t be seen as an afterthought; it’s must be planned from the outset.
There are various aspects that play into the optimal health, security and connectivity of individual devices and the overall network. How can large batches of devices be provisioned efficiently and securely? Is authentication natively built into the provisioning process? Can I easily configure and update field devices from afar? How can I troubleshoot network and device issues? What does the end of life management process look like? These are just a few out of numerous questions to be answered
In addition to a comprehensive strategy and careful planning, you’ll need a powerful network and device management tool to better streamline and automate the management process.
5. Flexible and Scalable Software Infrastructure
The cloud is probably on the radar of almost every company that looks to collect and process massive IoT data streams. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should transfer all processing work to the cloud. In many scenarios, a combination of cloud and edge/on-prem deployment is called into action to strike the right balance between scale, cost, latency and data privacy. With that in mind, you want to make sure your connected system can support such hybrid workflows and enable seamless migration from the edge to the cloud.
Whether you want to build you own IoT software and applications, outsource these from third-party vendors, or opt for a combination of both, microservices and container-based design is the way to go. In the DevOps world, containerized applications have been a great success story due to their modular, resource-efficient and platform-agnostic nature. This makes them as well a perfect fit for a hybrid IoT architecture where individual service containers can be deployed independently in any compute environment – be it an edge gateway, an on-prem server or a cloud platform. Plus, leveraging modern container orchestration tools like Kubernetes, you can easily deploy, manage and scale the software to adapt to changing needs.
Scaling an IoT deployment can be a challenging and intimidating endeavour, but don’t let this put you off harnessing the enormous opportunities IoT has to offer. While the five criteria discussed above by no means represent an exhaustive list, they can serve as a useful baseline to help you avoid the common IoT scalability issues and start architecting an infrastructure that can grow with your IoT requirements.