The majority of IoT applications today need to exchange data with application platforms hosted in the cloud. It is expected that the majority of IoT applications will be hosted in cloud platforms such as AWS, or Microsoft Azure within the next 5 years.
On the other hand, an increasing number of IoT deployments operate in ‘inhospitable’ environments, which impose constraints on power, location, space, processing speed, etc. To support these constrained deployments, new transport and messaging protocols have emerged, which are streamlined and make more efficient use of network resources.
IoT cloud connectors enable IoT deployments to communicate effectively with their cloud-based application platforms, and are seeing tremendous industry interest.
In this Q&A, Gabriel Salvate, Senior IoT Solutions Go-To-Market Manager at BICS, explains the role of IoT cloud connectors, analyzing why the industry needs them now, and their potential for the future.
To start, could you list for us the benefits of using cloud platforms for IoT deployments?
Gabriel Salvate: The main benefits are clearly scalability, and the easy integration of data storage and analysis. Also, major cloud platforms, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, and others, have state of the art capabilities in connection speed and security. Another important aspect is that organizations do not need to incur capital costs and high operational costs associated with maintaining data centers and servers around the world. The growing commitment from cloud providers to building their IoT capabilities, to support needs such as edge computing (improving device response time by bringing computing to the edge of the network and therefore closer to data source), has benefitted the industry further.
What’s changing? Why do we need IoT cloud connectors?
GS: With the exponential growth in IoT deployments come new challenges and needs, such as constrained IoT, and the restrictions these unique challenges impose on how IoT devices are able to communicate. Cloud connectors are a solution that the mobile industry has come up with to match the stringent requirements of hyperscalers with those of IoT enterprises – in terms of scalability, security, and reliability of the connection.
So, what are IoT cloud connectors?
GS: You can think of IoT cloud connectors as the intermediary between IoT devices and cloud platforms. They are an element on the network that’s in charge of “translating” the data from the device to deliver it to the cloud. In short, they allow the easy and secure delivery of data from IoT devices into the relevant cloud platforms that store it.
In this sense, they have two key functions: to apply the right protocols and security required by the cloud hyperscalers, and to deliver IoT device data with the highest service levels possible.
What is driving the need for cloud connectors?
GS: There are three main factors jointly driving the need for cloud connectors:
- The increasing use of cloud in IoT solution architecture
- Constraints imposed by cloud hyperscalers on data protocols, encryption, and authentication
- The rise of constrained devices, creating a higher reliance on lighter transport, messaging, and security protocols
There is a growing need for an end-to-end Connectivity Management Platform (CMP) solution, high security, as well as effective data management and governance.
Security seems to be a key driver. How do IoT cloud connectors meet these security demands?
GS: Cloud connectors handle encryption using DTLS (Datagram Transport Layer Security) and protocol conversion.
This is applied at the operator’s network, and uses the network layer security within its perimeter up to the network node. And although cloud connectors are not the only way to add a transport layer security to a device’s cloud communications protocols, they have been proven to be the safest, due to the added security layer that comes from having the cloud connector act as a proxy (translating the data at the cloud connectors point), and going through the CMP before applying DLTS protocols.
Two common alternatives are to apply TLS/ DTLS to the end-to-end communications – e.g. through a hardware security module (HSM) – and IoT SAFE, which uses the SIM as a hardware root-of-trust. What sets IoT cloud connectors apart is having the security and protocol conversion within the network perimeter, which removes the challenges associated with the manual management of security protocols.
What are “connectivity twins,” and what do they have to do with IoT cloud connectors?
GS: Once cloud connectors have transported the IoT data to the cloud provider, that data needs to be managed end-to-end through the CMP. A connectivity twin allows the monitoring of IoT SIMs in real time, enabling accurate predictions of downtime and maintenance, and improving the overall QoS.
By virtually cloning the SIM or eSIM, and obtaining a 360° digital twin of the device, enterprises can directly access connectivity information and insights. The end-to-end security view and reporting allow for faster troubleshooting and overall service improvement.
How will IoT cloud connectors shape the future of the IoT industry?
GS: The rise of constrained devices, along with the growing demand for cloud integration, will definitely continue to drive the need for cloud connectors across the industry.
They will likely become a table-stakes functionality for the major connectivity providers, turning into an application optimizer. Another outcome is that we will see more and more connectivity providers adopting cloud-native approaches, with the aim of having seamless access to the cloud as part of their offering.
To sum up…
Cloud connectors exist to offer IoT enterprises a more streamlined and secure way to deliver cellular IoT data, especially from constrained devices, to the cloud, where it is processed or stored on the hyperscaler’s platform. Having an IoT cloud connector functionality adds significant value to an enterprise’s IoT connectivity setup. This value comes from the protocol conversion taking place within the network perimeter, to ensure a higher level of security. This process is presently the simplest and most effective mechanism for meeting hyperscalers’ requirements.
As a result, cloud connectors will likely become standard within IoT connectivity offerings, and the key, in Salvate’s view, will be the ability to manage data streaming, connectivity management, and device control, from a single CMP.