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Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) will be an Enabler for the Internet of Things (IoT) in 2017 and Beyond

Article Written by Ingo Kiesewetter, Vice President Enterprise Architecture at itelligence, Inc.

Everybody is talking about IoT as the best things since sliced bread.  What often gets neglected in all this talk about the potential of IoT is how to make it work.  IoT presents unique challenges to common system architectures.  Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is an important layer in the stack.  We will lift the curtain back and peek at what is behind.

But first, let's clear up any potential confusion:  IoT describes physical objects like machines, appliances and sensors that are connected using the Internet.

IoT as enabler for business transformation

IoT opens the door to transformational changes and new business models. It allows companies to reinvent themselves by removing technical constraints that exist today. Today, a typical manufacturing company might make equipment and then offer repair and maintenance services.  With IoT the business model can change to sharing the added value of additional equipment uptime.  Sensors in the equipment can relay relevant metrics to the manufacturer's backend systems and trigger service tickets before an issue leads to equipment downtime.

The availability of IoT also offers opportunities for completely new business models.  One example is an e-mobility company that uses IoT sensors in charging stations and cars to provide customers with a real-time view of available cars and the status of charging stations.

itelligence-a 

Source: itelligence

Technical Architecture

Connecting large numbers of IoT devices to back office systems poses specific challenges.  The technology forms the backbone for the transformational changes to business models but is often overlooked.

Connecting devices

IoT devices need to be connected to a central layer that integrates them into backoffice processes.  The number and geographic distribution of IoT devices poses unique challenges around device management and security.  The data volumes generated by IoT sensors can be vast.  Commonly these issues are addressed by using edge of fog computing.  These terms describe a cloud-like, often distributed and decentral layer that isolates IoT communication from the rest of the overall process in business systems.  In addition to connecting devices the data being generated can be aggregated, filtered and analyzed in this layer.  Security is another layer than needs to be carefully considered in IoT projects.  Decoupling devices in the open Internet from protected business systems is a must.

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Source: Cloud Technology Partners

Many providers offer products for device connectivity.  Let's look at SAP's Hana Cloud Platform (HCP) as an example:  HCP is fundamentally a Platform as a service (PaaS) platform.  SAP has developed numerous packages in HCP including commonly used IoT services (device connectivity and management, communication, data streaming, security, SQL Anywhere etc.).  This means that HCP can act as an edge computing platform as well as a PaaS platform for connectivity to backend systems.

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Source: SAP

Connecting IoT to Business Processes

Once data generated by IoT devices is available in a digestible format (aggregated, filtered etc.) it can be used in the context of a business process in the core back office systems like SAP S/4HANA.  The integration is commonly built in a cloud-based platform (PaaS) or an on-premise integration tool.  By separating the IoT device-facing activities from the more sensitive backoffice-facing ones, possible performance and security issues can be mitigated more easily.  Since IoT scenarios often change more often and more quickly than back office processes, using a PaaS platform allows changes to the IoT scenario without impacting the stable core process.

Using PaaS to integrate 3rd party applications into a business process in a back office system has been a common approach for several years.  By using defined APIs in the back office system, a stable interface layer can be defined, allowing for a more agile approach in the content developed and deployed in the PaaS.  With emerging technologies like IoT, this added agility is particularly important as requirements are often not clearly defined and morph as an implementation project moves along.  ‘Classic' on-premise integration tools can be used in a similar manner, but most providers of such tools are slower to roll out new features and capabilities compared to PaaS providers.  To illustrate, compare the features in SAP NetWeaver Process Orchestration (PO) with SAP's PaaS solution (Hana Cloud Platform):  while both tools have the mapping and orchestration capabilities one can expect from an integration tool, SAP made a number of IoT-specific services available only in HCP.  Some of these services are more device-oriented (as described above) but some like data streaming can be very useful in integrating IoT devices with a back office system.

Conclusion

When planning an IoT project one needs to consider the technical landscape carefully.  Since communication between and from devices is executed over the open Internet a layer to isolate devices from the rest of the landscape is needed.  Fog or edge computing solutions are commonly used for this purpose.  Integration to a back office system is (mostly) necessary to realize the value IoT promises.  PaaS platforms often support this better than classic on-premise integration tools.

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About the Author

Ingo Kiesewetter is the Vice President Enterprise Architecture at itelligence, Inc. in Cincinnati, OH.  He has over 21 years of experience in implementing business software, designing and building complex integration scenarios and guiding clients through the process of transforming their business through IT.

A native of Germany he is now a US citizen and resides in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife, two dogs and four cats.

https://www.linkedin.com/in/ingok

Published Tuesday, January 10, 2017 8:01 AM by David Marshall
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