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30 November 2018

AWS’ IoT updates herald increasingly tight cloud stranglehold

While its Graviton ARM CPU announcement was perhaps the bigger news at Amazon’s ARS re:Invent show, the cloud computing giant released a flood of smaller updates for its IoT offerings. The move adds weight to our view that the cloud computing market is going to secure a stranglehold on IoT applications and services, run as a service by the likes of AWS, Microsoft, and Google.

If the titans were struggling to address the opportunity, we might think there was room for a minnow to sneak in and carve out a slice. However, the big boys seem to be ahead of the curve, making this look like a demand-side problem rather than a supply-side one. The giants appear to have most of the tools in place to power a given IoT application, but 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 is a good opportunity 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 slowly adopt IoT technologies and their supporting applications, whether or not the end-customer is even aware that they are now becoming an IoT adopter, it seems certain that the existing cloud providers are going to be able to secure the bulk of these new IoT opportunities – swept up in an upsell, or simply a new box to tick in the configuration menu. Eventually, new purchases are going to have native IoT functions, and at some point, the integrations should be almost painless.

Until that world comes to be, we are stuck with 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 startups and enterprises that are forging an 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 it does not look like it’s far behind these two.

As for the AWS announcements themselves, the edge-processing Greengrass platform has had a bunch of upgrades to better connect it with third-party applications, as well upgrades 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.

IoT SiteWise is a service designed to collect and organize industrial equipment data, and AWS has now made it 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 a bit more practical, and less exciting. 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.