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What is a 'Thing': A Basic Architecture for IoT Newbies

Smart medical devices that transmit data directly to healthcare providers. Smart pallets that help warehouses keep track of inventory movements. Smart basketballs that help players track their shots as they practice.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has been around for a few years now and although the initial frenzy has died down somewhat, Things are constantly being added to the network and IoT adoption continues to increase at a breakneck pace.

Business Insider's recent Internet of Things report shows that companies plan to invest in IoT are accelerating; Business Insider predicts there will be almost $15 million in aggregate IoT investment and more than 55 billion IoT devices by 2025. That's a lot of Things — up from nine (9) billion Things in 2017.

What's a Thing? If you're not familiar with the terminology of the IoT, that's a fair question. The Internet of Things can get a little overwhelming if you're new to it. The first thing you need to know is that the IoT is a network of connected things — like a wearable smart device — and they're connected to a network via an architecture.

IoT architecture varies, depending on what you need it to do, but to help you understand the IoT, here's what a basic, generic IoT architecture might look like:

  1. Sensor/Thing/Device 
    We are talking about the Internet of Things, so it all starts with the thing. A thing can be a device or a sensor which provides data. The data could consist of:pressure readings
    • temperature readings
    • ambient light levels
    • geolocation information
    • counters from manufacturing processes
    • images from a camera
    • accelerometer readings

The device could be mounted on a piece of manufacturing equipment or a vehicle, or worn on the body. Devices can be very simple, pushing out data only, or they can be more complex and receive data.

  1. Edge
    The next layer in our simple IoT architecture is the Device Edge. The purpose of the Edge is to act as the traffic cop between devices and where they connect to. The Edge provides:
    • device management
    • device hub
    • data collection
    • data aggregation
    • device security
    • event controlsmart-watch
    • event routing
    • fault-tolerant connections to cloud
  1. Data Intelligence 
    So the device provides data and the Edge routes it appropriately. Where does the data go now? Into a database where data intelligence can:
    • analyze it
    • run rules
    • trigger alerts
    • discover patterns
    • process batches
    • do Predictive Analysis
    • expose APIs
  1. Applications
    Our last layer is building applications to take advantage of the data intelligence we've gathered. These applications could be:
    • websites
    • mobile apps
    • advanced machinery controls
    • hardware-specific (smart glasses, etc.)

But Wait, There's More

The above architecture is an admittedly simplified view of the IoT.

Some devices connect directly to the cloud. There's middleware that jumps across layers. In reality each layer comprises several sub-layers. And all layers have security and privacy concerns.

It's hard to know what exact kind of architecture you'll need — it depends on your use case, the sensors and smart things you've invested in, and the data you need to do business well.

If you're new to the Internet of Things, it can be helpful to consult experts about the technology you've already invested in, how it's being used and what your goals are. Then the consultant can help you find an IoT architecture that works for you and gives you the data you need to achieve your business goals.

Want to learn more? Contact us for an in-depth conversation about possible IoT solutions for your business.

Jake Lardinois

About Author Jake Lardinois

Jake is a Software Developer with Omni. He has had diverse experiences during his 15 years in IT. Prior to joining Omni, Jake spent the bulk of his career in the manufacturing sector. His initial focus was in infrastructure-related technologies; however, he recognized the largest business impact was made by software solutions and he transitioned to a software development focus. Jake is a well-rounded business professional with management level operational experiences.


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