Awareness of the transformational power of the IoT vision is spreading among the traditional M2M community, with new players entering the IoT space, organisations of all types adopting or planning to adopt an IoT strategy, and policy-makers and regulators increasingly recognising its potential social and economic impact. This momentum doesn’t just involve innovation in technological terms, but also new business models. Senior analyst at Beecham Research, Saverio Romeo, recently met with a long term player in the M2M/IoT space – Eurotech. This Italian headquartered company has been behind some important innovations – such as the MQTT standard – and has successfully transitioned from an application-centric approach (M2M) to a ‘space-centric’ approach (IoT) in which spaces are sensed, connected, and intelligent, with the IoT becoming based on a service-centric view rather than a device-centric one, with data as the key enabler. Roberto Siagri, CEO at Eurotech, and Robert Andres, CMO at Eurotech, strongly believe that data openness is the real engine that will drive the full potential of the IoT vision.
Saverio Romeo (SR): What is and what will be the Internet of Things?
Roberto Siagri (RS): Defining the IoT is a complicated and risky task. In our daily experience, the IoT reveals both its complexity and its enormous potential. Through our offerings, we are reducing that complexity and moving towards easy-to-implement solutions. However, data is the strategic element of the IoT. That data, which is the result of a combination of different sources and typologies, is the building block that enables the creation of new services on devices or set of devices. The IoT vision is a service-based one enabled by the flow of data produced – and the power of that vision can be enhanced if the flows of data are open to all parties to use in creative and original ways.
SR: How far are we from the IoT vision you envisage?
RS: This is a very dynamic space and the pace of innovation is tremendous in technological terms. The desire to test and deploy new business models spans many industry sectors – but I also think there are several challenges that we have to face. Above all, we believe that there are misunderstandings about how to prioritise IoT initiatives. Many organisations adopting or hoping to adopt the IoT see it as an application-centric solution. Therefore, they focus their IoT strategy around the application. This is really an increasingly out of date M2M view. Instead, the focus should be around the data – and that’s data as an enabler of applications. However, it has to be said that the landscape is confusing for the many who don’t already have experience with the IoT. The confusion that infests IoT platforms is an example of that. The term ‘IoT platform’ is used to label solutions that are all actually very different from one other. The result is an uncountable number of platforms, and that confuses adopters. Resolving that sort of conceptual and semantic fog is one key challenge for the IoT community.
SR: Robert, what are your thoughts about the current status of the IoT industry?
Robert Andres (RA): I fully endorse Roberto’s comments on what the IoT should be. The challenges in front of us are: complex technology, lack of specific skill sets, IoT/IT integration challenges, security, regulatory issues, certification, confusing messages from industry and standardisation bodies, interoperability of solutions – and we could add even more issues if we had time. However, we also have a tremendous industry that’s strongly motivated to confront these. There are major industry trends underway that will lead to effective and affordable IoT solutions and the general commoditisation of distributed systems. Compared to the past, we now have powerful embedded systems – not just general purpose gateways – and, additionally, purpose-built systems for vertical market applications. We also have sophisticated enterprise IT technology, including virtualisation and security and cloud computing solutions, that can now be exploited in OT (Operational Technology) infrastructures.
SR: What’s Eurotech’s role now in today’s IoT market?
RA: Eurotech has been delivering distributed device solutions involving both hardware and software for more than two decades now. This invaluable experience also has been made available via software products to both our customers and our system integration partners. These products leverage and support open industry standards and were built to specifically address the IoT/IT issues many companies experience.
RS: If we try to condense the Eurotech offering and strategy into a simple goal, it would be to reduce the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) in IoT/M2M solutions. It’s about delivering a dramatic cut in initial investment, reduce risk, and shorten time to market.
SR: Can you provide an overview of Eurotech’s key offerings?
RA: The actual software on the device is an important building block in our strategy. In order to simplify and optimise the development of device software, Eurotech offers an application framework layered on top of the operating system called the Everyware Software Framework or ESF. It is based on Linux, Java and OSGi and enables the implementation of business logic rules in a very effective way. Not only does it abstract the hardware in order to ensure investment protection with regards to the software, but it also allows new services to be dynamically loaded onto IoT multiservice gateways or edge nodes at run-time.
Another very important building block is our cloud-based IoT platform called the Everyware Cloud that integrates easily into existing enterprise IT infrastructures – offering simple access through standard APIs to both real-time and historical data from devices. In addition, this IoT integration platform also offers the device life-cycle features that ensure smooth deployment and management of the distributed device infrastructure.
There are other important elements, depending on the nature of the customer business. One particular aspect I would like to highlight is carrier certification, required in many markets for devices connected to the cellular networks. For many companies that wish to sell their products or services internationally, these certifications are a major barrier because of the associated effort and cost. Our ReliaCELL product range is a very attractive, pre-certified modular solution.
SR: Security is a crucial topic for the IoT. What does Eurotech offer in this field?
AR: Eurotech understood very early on that security has to be approached holistically and, in an IoT infrastructure, leverage best practice approaches and technologies from the existing IT security space. In order to safely address all possible points of failure, security must be a fundamental part of the overall architecture of an IoT system. IoT system architects must account for the specific challenges of distributed and unattended mobile devices and implement security both endto-end and in each individual element.
Security in IoT projects is more than just the combination of some ‘perimeter defence’ systems. While these elements are important, we also believe that proper authentication methods, management of certificates, and especially an overall architecture and design approach that eliminates many possible attack scenarios, are also important. Furthermore it is essential to validate and audit the security measures regularly by external security specialists.
Eurotech is able to offer security solutions that cover the span from IoT gateways and edge devices to the IoT applications enablement platform itself. Examples are an end-to-end security offering based on x.509 Certificate and PKI technology, or an architecture that ensures that the ‘attack surfaces’ of IoT devices are significantly reduced.
SR: The IoT brings complexity into organisations. We have discussed security as an element of that complexity, but integration between the IoT and existing IT systems, or the IoT/IT integration, is also increasingly becoming important for companies. What’s Eurotech approach on that?
AR: In IoT business opportunities, the IT department is playing an increasingly important role. That results in different technology and architecture decisions to allow an effective IoT/IT integration. That in turn requires more changes on the OT side – but also IT realising that new technology approaches are required. Interfaces and solutions, including the programming of edge devices, have to be done in an ITcentric way – such as using Java instead of C++ – in order to scale. With our ESF environment, we provide several advantages to the IoT/IT integration space, such as: powerful embedded systems, open and industry standards, no HR constraints (Java programmers instead of senior C++ specialists, for example), multi-service software-defined systems, and real-time data communications.
SR: Roberto, is any single organisation able to fully deliver an end-to-end IoT solution for every context?
RS: I believe that no-one is currently able – or will be able – to offer an end-to-end solution for everyone. The complexity involved in deploying IoT solutions requires a partnership approach and it’s therefore essential to create an ecosystem of trusted players adaptable to different projects. It’s also important to make that ecosystem open to new influences and contribution. This is for example our approach with Eclipse Kura, an OSGi-based application framework for M2M/IoT service gateways where Eurotech is contributing significantly in open source. In the Kura initiative, you can clearly see the underlying ethos behind Eurotech: data is the strategic element, while a wide ecosystem of players can act as the strategic workers to develop and implement the truly service-centric IoT that we all anticipate.