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14 June 2019

Akamai jumps on CDN to sling IoT MQTT systems to enterprises

Akamai has announced a pretty major addition to its portfolio, grafting an MQTT messaging broker onto its global Content Distribution Network (CDN). Called IoT Edge Connect, and part of Akamai’s Edge Cloud offering, the new system is intended to let devices and applications communicate very quickly, over the same CDN that provides much of the rich media content consumed via the internet.

Akamai is still top-dog in the CDN game, and also provides security software and services to customers that want to avoid being hacked or taken offline by DDoS attacks. Edge Cloud currently consists of the new IoT Edge Connect product and the OTA Updates product that is geared towards connected cars and IoT devices.

With MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), a venerable communications system often using in IoT projects, Akamai is planning to pitch industry-leading message delivery speeds, on the back of its CDN. MQTT allows a developer using the TCP/IP protocol, essentially any directly connected internet device, to make use of the publish-subscribe (pub-sub) features of MQTT.

Effectively, MQTT allows developers to create lists that devices subscribe to, and can then publish messages to these lists in order to trigger actions. Multiple lists are used to facilitate sensor data reporting, command-and-control functions, and event-based triggers. MQTT is relatively simple, but very flexible, and has a pretty low messaging and code overhead, meaning it is very well suited to IoT devices and applications. Here, Akamai is providing the middleman service, acting as the broker between all these messages.

So then, Akamai has looked around and realized that it has a huge platform to build on, 240,000 servers in 4,000 locations across 137 countries, it says, and so has released the Edge Cloud offering and its MQTT and OTA components. It says that IoT Edge Connect allows for scalability, for up to hundreds of millions of endpoints and what it says is 10x more messages than any other rival messaging service. It says that this speed reduces battery drain, and optimizes data delivery speed and volume.

Security is another selling point, with Akamai saying that its end-to-end mutual authentication has been implemented, and that it can also support proper data isolation if the application requires it. Akamai is also claiming that it is currently the only ISO-compliant cloud broker among the major cloud providers that supports all three levels of QoS, as well as the distributed database support, seven days of message retention, and support for objects up to 256MB (which would be quite a large message, in IoT terms).

“Akamai believes that we are offering the next generation of messaging with scalability, operational simplicity and security, providing a turn-key solution that allows customers to focus on their core business rather than integrating and managing discreet but necessary components for messaging,” said Lior Netzer, vice president and CTO, IoT, Akamai. “With the launch of IoT Edge Connect, we’re harnessing the power of the Edge and bringing it to the next frontier of connected devices and applications.”

Akamai hasn’t announced any customers yet, but it does have a pretty extensive list of CDN and security customers to cross-pollinate and up-sell from. Akamai has been paying close attention to the IoT for some time, and its State of the Internet (SoTI) reports are always worth reading. For now, it remains to be seen how popular the fully managed service will prove, but Akamai’s main sales pitch will be the ease of setup, removing the hassle of having to host it yourself, and the bundled Akamai security benefits that can be incorporated.

The company recently split its SoTI reports from a single issue into multiple separate reports, each dealing with a single topic. The 2018 review chronicles the myriad of botnet attacks that have become a constant background noise in this sector, infecting connected devices and using them to cripple a target website. IoT devices have been a boon for these botnets, and Mirai is the best known example, but it was an error in the Unix memcached service that led to attackers exploiting it to launch a record-setting 1.3Tbps botent campaign.

Akamai also identified a cousin of Mirai in September, called Tsunami or Kaiten, which was evolving from lessons learned in other IoT botnets. The company warns that this will keep happening until “security of all things IoT becomes a priority for manufacturers.” Unfortunately, the manufacturers are not going to act until their wallets start hurting, so in some sense, we would welcome a few majorly damaging events, to get the ball rolling. The ethical question is what is the acceptable level of civilian casualties in that process …