Amazon may favor wireless OEMs rather than operators for IoT alliances

The AWS re:Invent show saw a flood of updates for the cloud giant’s IoT offerings, further strengthening the ecosystem it is building around platforms like Greengrass. As in other areas of cloud computing, the IoT may provide natural opportunities for telcos and Amazon to cooperate, but there is also the risk that AWS will get its telecoms expertise from vendors like Nokia, rather than operators.

In many ways, the large OEMs, Nokia in particular, are looking better equipped to support connected enterprise services – including IoT and edge compute – than the telcos. Platforms like Nokia WING and its virtualized packet core-as-a-service can coordinate connectivity from multiple providers, including unlicensed spectrum technologies, and offer the enterprise a self-contained, secure core, without reference to a telco. That threatens to make Nokia into the key enterprise relationship for IoT and networking, rather than an operator. In turn, that could make Nokia a more attractive partner for Amazon than the large number of operators required to reach all locations and organizations.

So the latest developments from AWS in the IoT field tended to reinforce the view that cloud companies will secure a stranglehold on IoT applications and services, provided they can make the economics of orchestrating edge compute and connectivity work in their centralized worlds.

The cloud giants appear to have most of the tools in place to power any given IoT application, while the rest of the world is only beginning to wake up to that opportunity.

Of course, there will be industries or markets that create opportunities for smaller players that won’t be crushed by the big three. PTC and its ThingWorx PaaS (platform-as-a-service) is a good example of this, in the industrial world, as are the likes of Siemens’ MindSphere, Bosch’s IoT Cloud, or Ayla Networks in the consumer electronics world.

But as the largest companies begin to adopt IoT technologies and their supporting applications, it seems clear that the existing cloud providers are going to be able to secure the bulk of these new opportunities, often simply as a new box to tick in the configuration menu. That means telcos and network vendors will need to define their own enterprise IoT roles against the presence of the cloud giants.

One of the attractions of the webscalers is that they promise, over time, to get companies away from the current world of fiddly configurations and integrations, where devices have to be connected, authenticated, and then their data processed, before they can be used as part of a wider application. To this end, AWS is pushing its new suite of tools and services, hoping to snare both start-ups and enterprises on the IoT path.

Microsoft has made its Azure offering pretty clear, and its embracing of Linux is proof of its new ethos. Similarly, its Azure Sphere OS, which runs on its own designed-for-security microcontrollers, is an attempt to facilitate highly secure end devices, which can then be safely incorporated into cloud-based applications. Google has been less obvious in its IoT strategy, but shouldn’t be too far behind the two cloud leaders.

As for the AWS announcements themselves, the edge processing Greengrass IoT platform has had a bunch of upgrades to connect it better with third party applications, as well as updates for hardware root-of-trust capabilities and new isolation and permission settings. Essentially, it looks like it will be easier for customers to deploy Greengrass-enabled devices at the network edge, housing Trusted Platform Modules (TPM) and Hardware Security Modules (HSM), to ensure better security and regulatory compliance, with new isolation options to make sure that the containers cannot overreach their bounds. Greengrass was launched back in December 2016.

Also new is IoT SiteWise, a service designed to collect and organize industrial equipment data, which AWS has now made available in its Preview mode. This is a service that will catch the eye of the likes of Siemens, Bosch, and GE, as well as the dozens to hundreds of other major manufacturers of industrial equipment.

Many of those vendors have been experimenting with providing their own PaaS offerings in conjunction with physical assets, as an attempt to get into the services game, and while many will be using AWS for their hosting needs, it should worry them that AWS could start pilfering those customers.

For now, SiteWise is a way to link industrial gateways to Amazon’s cloud, where their data can be analyzed and presented to staff. The SiteWise software can apparently be installed on common third-party gateways, or on an AWS Snowball Edge box, which is one of Amazon’s data migration tools, which is also being pushed as an option for edge-processing.

The other IoT announcements are more pragmatic. AWS customers can now use IoT Things Graph, again in Preview mode, which is a service that helps developers link devices with web-based services. A drag-and-drop UI should make this fairly simple, but the tool lets customers build applications that can then be deployed on Greengrass gateways, where the tool can then facilitate workflow automation.

IoT Events is a new service, again now available in Preview, which has been designed to let customers set up responses to events generated by applications and sensors. Essentially, it will look to spot events in data, which can then trigger alerts and appropriate actions. AWS says it makes spotting events among thousands of sensors very easy to do, and points to applications like freezer management as good candidates.

The final loT announcement was Device Tester, which as the name suggests, is a tool that lets you see whether a device is going to correctly connect to the rest of your stack. It is designed for testing things running Amazon FreeRTOS or Greengrass, which does limit its reach somewhat, as enthusiasm for FreeRTOS after it was essentially in-housed by Amazon does seem to have waned.