17 Jul 2017

IoT Device Management: Why You Need it and How it Works

Keith Shea, Vice President and General Manager – IoT Solutions, Wind River looks at the need for device management in the IoT & the ways this can be achieved.

Most organizations have valuable data being collected by hundreds or even thousands of field devices. The data from these Internet of Things (IoT) devices is only retrieved when the devices deliver it using a dependable gateway. In order to make sure these devices are dependable, IoT system developers and device manufacturers must consider from the beginning how the devices will need to be managed. This paper will show the business case for having efficient device management. It also introduces a solution that allows businesses to manage these edge devices reliably in a cost-effective manner from a remote location.

Devices at the edge

Everyone likes to talk about the data they collect, but the real unsung heroes are the edge devices that collect this data. These devices work in the field, collecting data and transmitting it to a centralized platform or using automated tasks to collect the data. While the job of sending the data may seem dull and monotonous to us humans, the overall performance of the network depends on the health of these devices. If one of the sensors, embedded agents, or gateways fails to operate, the results can be dire.

Although maintaining IoT devices may not seem as exciting as aggregating and analyzing data, it is a necessary part of an IoT strategy. Monitoring the devices to prevent system disruptions and downtime is a basic requirement for device manufacturers and system operators. It is critical that they have an action plan in place to resolve any issues as they happen.

IoT is changing constantly and business priorities can change as businesses get more insight from the data. Because of this, system operators need a scalable, efficient way to send updates across a large number of devices. Of course, security is also a real concern. When a vulnerability is discovered in device software, patches must be deployed quickly—before intruders can exploit the gaps.

IoT Device Management

Updating thousands of devices

What is needed to remotely roll out updates, at scale, to devices scattered across the internet? It is no longer cost-effective for device manufacturers to use truck rolls to deploy bug fixes and updates. Nowadays, manufacturers need to plan during the design phase for these types of contingencies.

The problem is that data collection for the IoT normally only goes device-to-cloud. This means when operators find device anomalies, they don’t have the ability to get the update commands to the device to resolve the issue. This is why the initial design phase must consider the entire operating lifecycle from the time a device is deployed to when it is decommissioned.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed:

Device security: This is a critical part of any IoT system. A common target for hackers is to focus on endpoint devices in order to gain entry to systems. These endpoints could open the door for security breaches that can lead to theft of intellectual property and confidential data, and could even threaten lives. Unfortunately, this can be challenging because devices can be vulnerable to physical tampering as well as threats from the network.

Provisioning devices: Once the devices have been set up and connected, operators need to efficiently activate and provision each device. Traditionally, this has meant traveling to each device, loading applications, and doing manual upgrades. However, in order to be efficient, operators need to be able to configure and provision these devices and then support them remotely.

Device upgrades and updates: Devices require regular software upgrades and updates to keep them operating properly. Whether it’s an upgrade to add or fix functionality or a security patch to fix a vulnerability, operators need a way to efficiently add these upgrades and updates on a regular basis.

Device management: In order for system operators to monitor and manage devices, they need the right tools. Once they have found a problem, they need the ability to send instructions to the devices to fix the issues or modify functionality. To do this, the devices must support two-way communication, allowing the process to be fully automated.

Device integration: In the past, having information technology and operational systems separate may have made sense. However, with IoT devices, these once-disparate systems need to be integrated to give them a centralized location to aggregate and store data so it can be analyzed.

End-of-life: Developers need to have a plan in place for device end-of-life during the design phase. This allows operators to remotely remove devices from service with ease.

Every IoT manufacturer, developer, or operator is going to face the challenge of how to get consistent, secure, and reliable remote control over their devices scattered across the internet.

The solution is in the cloud

Device manufacturers should take device management into consideration from the beginning. Unfortunately, building device management and two-way communication capability yourself can be a time-consuming process that can delay deployment and increase costs.

Instead, you need a more practical solution that was created for making IoT device deployment and management easy. Using Wind River® Helix™ Device Cloud provides a ready-built platform that offers RESTful APIs that enable IT and IoT professionals to build vertical-specific IoT solutions quickly.

Using Device Cloud, companies can build device management into their existing infrastructure. This greatly reduces the complexity of deploying IoT devices at a large scale.

With Device Cloud, companies are able to:

Deploy devices: A device can be provisioned using the startup.bin file, then authenticated via a certificate exchange, and then configured using the operating system’s network settings.

Monitor devices: Data is collected from devices, including device health, connection status, operations, alerts, etc.

Run remote diagnosis and repair: A secure tunnel can be established to the device allowing remote access to review log files and historical trends, and to run remote repairs (i.e. pushing updates to the device, changing settings, etc.).

Perform remote device management: Customers can track what changes have been made to devices as well as track inventory data.

Update devices: Some examples of updates that could be delivered to the devices include software updates, agent updates, security patches, and updating the operating system kernel.

Decommission devices: When it is time to remove devices, they can be deactivated, but the agent files left intact. The device can also be returned back to its original factory state or deleted completely, erasing all of its files.

IoT Device Management

Why updates are so important

Since Device Cloud collects and integrates data from disparate IoT devices, it automatically enables operators to share data with others about the devices and then use that data to actively determine when the devices will need updates. With the embedded software agent, this information is securely transmitted to the cloud. With Device Cloud, operators can view device information using a web-based management console to perform diagnostics and then take corrective action if needed.

Device Cloud also integrates existing enterprise systems that can analyze the data from an IoT network. Its data and event forwarding helps ensure that device issues will be sent to alert operators of potential problems. This allows operators to respond accordingly and prevents the ingestion of possible bad data.

Device management needs proper security

The recent security breaches of IoT devices have highlighted the need to protect connected systems, and this has become an important topic for IoT. This security imperative protects not only the devices, but also the machines they control and the people who rely on their ongoing performance. As companies increase their reliance on this connected-device data, having a secure end-to-end strategy that covers the application lifecycle is needed.

Adding security increases the level of complexity. The proper planning that is required to build in security functionality can also slow down the development process, increase costs, and potentially affect device performance. Using Device Cloud, users have the ability to build IoT applications using preconfigured and integrated software components where security has already been integrated into the platform. This means that developers did not have to identify, source, and patch together various technologies during the development process, which can decrease complexity and reduce the risk of security gaps.

Device Cloud contains a variety of preconfigured features that allow developers to implement security measures across the device lifecycle during the design stage. Some of these include:

  • SPM

  • Software isolation

  • Access permissions

  • Integrity testing

  • Encryption of device, network, and data

  • Embedded credentials and certificates

  • Built-in device software update

  • Whitelisting of applications

  • Secure boot

  • Trusted Platform Modules

Using Device Cloud with its pre-integrated security components allows developers to reduce the risk of misconfiguration and implement security without decreasing performance or delaying development.

Conclusion

As the Internet of Things moves worldwide, an ever-increasing number of organizations unlock the value the data of these devices generates. This will give them additional business insight, improve profitability, optimize their operations, and enable them to find new business opportunities. However, IoT can only be useful if the devices are regularly monitored and managed.

With Device Cloud, the technology already exists to build these capabilities into systems and devices for the IoT. Using Device Cloud, manufacturers and IoT developers can accelerate the deployment of devices and ensure that a critical gap is closed, allowing organizations that depend on these devices to get secure, responsive, crucial business data so they can make full use of it.

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About the author

Keith Shea is vice president and general manager of the Helix Cloud IoT solutions business at Wind River, where he is responsible for the company’s SaaS business. His team is chartered with developing and delivering to the market the product portfolio for IoT, as well as managing key customer relationships across broad markets. Keith is also responsible for the ongoing leadership of the Wind River alliance program. Prior to Wind River, he spent more than a decade at Intel Corporation helping the Wind River parent company grow its revenue through strategic software and hardware ventures.

During his tenure with Intel he held assignments in corporate development, product management, marketing, and sales, living and working in both the United States and Europe. Prior to Intel, he worked in the telecommunications software industry with positions in marketing, sales, and product management. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Boston College and an MBA from the Wharton School.

Wind River, an Intel company (NASDAQ: INTC), is a world leader in delivering software for the Internet of Things. The company has been pioneering computing inside embedded devices since 1981, and its technology is found in more than 2 billion products. Wind River offers the industry's most comprehensive embedded software portfolio, supported by world-class global professional services and support and a broad partner ecosystem. Wind River delivers the technology and expertise that enables the innovation and deployment of safe, secure, and reliable intelligent systems. To learn more, visit Wind River at www.windriver.com.

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