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The Internet of Things in the Cloud


 
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Cloud computing is the next evolutionary step in Internet-based computing, which provides the means for delivering ICT resources as a service. Internet-of-Things can benefit from the scalability, performance and pay-as-you-go nature of cloud computing infrastructures.



By John Soldatos, Internet of Things and Smart Cities Expert.

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The advent of cloud computing has acted as a catalyst for the development and deployment of scalable Internet-of-Things business models and applications. Therefore, IoT and cloud are nowadays two very closely affiliated future internet technologies, which go hand-in-hand in non-trivial IoT deployments. Furthermore, most modern IoT ecosystems up-to-date are cloud-based, as will be illustrated in subsequent chapters of the tutorial. Prior to describing the essence of IoT and cloud computing integration, we briefly introduce the main cloud computing concepts. Αn in-depth presentation of cloud computing can be found in relevant textbooks such as Mastering Cloud Computing  by Rajkumar Buyya et. Al.

Cloud Computing Basics

 
Cloud computing is the next evolutionary step in Internet-based computing, which provides the means for delivering ICT resources as a service. The ICT resources that can be delivered through cloud computing model include computing power, computing infrastructure (e.g., servers and/or storage resources), applications, business processes and more. Cloud computing infrastructures and services have the following characteristics, which typically differentiate them from similar (distributed computing) technologies:

  • Elasticity and the ability to scale up and down: Cloud computing services can scale upwards during high periods of demand and downward during periods of lighter demand. This elastic nature of cloud computing facilitates the implementation of flexibly scalable business models, e.g., through enabling enterprises to use more or less resources as their business grows or shrinks.
  • Self-service provisioning and automatic deprovisioning: Contrary to conventional web-based Application Service Providers (ASP) models (e.g., web hosting), cloud computing enables easy access to cloud services without a lengthy provisioning process. In cloud computing, both provisioning and de-provisioning of resources can take place automatically.
  • Application programming interfaces (APIs): Cloud services are accessible via APIs, which enable applications and data sources to communicate with each other.
  • Billing and metering of service usage in a pay-as-you-go model: Cloud services are associated with a utility-based pay-as-you-go model. To this end, they provide the means for metering resource usage and subsequently issuing bills.
  • Performance monitoring and measuring: Cloud computing infrastructures provide a service management environment along with an integrated approach for managing physical environments and IT systems.
  • Security: Cloud computing infrastructures offer security functionalities towards safeguarding critical data and fulfilling customers’ compliance requirements.

The two main business drivers behind the adoption of a cloud computing model and associated services including:

  • Business Agility: Cloud computing alleviates tedious IT procurement processes, since it facilitates flexible, timely and on-demand access to computing resources (i.e. compute cycles, storage) as needed to meet business targets.
  • Reduced Capital Expenses: Cloud computing holds the promise to lead to reduced capital expenses (i.e. IT capital investments) (CAPEX), through enabling conversion of CAPEX to operational expenses (i.e. paying per month, per user for each service) (OPEX). This is due to the fact that cloud computing enables flexible planning and elastic provisioning of resources instead of upfront overprovisioning.

Depending on the types of resources that are accessed as a service, cloud computing is associated with different service delivery models.

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): IaaS deals with the delivery of storage and computing resources towards supporting custom business solutions. Enterprises opt for an IaaS cloud computing model in order to benefit from lower prices, the ability to aggregate resources, accelerated deployment, as well as increased and customized security. The most prominent example of IaaS service Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), which uses the Xen open-source hypervisor to create and manage virtual machines.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): PaaS provides development environments for creating cloud-ready business applications. It provides a deeper set of capabilities comparing to IaaS, including development, middleware, and deployment capabilities. PaaS services create and encourage deep ecosystem of partners who commit to this environment. Typical examples of PaaS services are Google’s App Engine and Microsoft’s Azure cloud environment, which both provide a workflow engine, development tools, a testing environment, database integration functionalities, as well as third-party tools and services.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): SaaS services enable access to purpose-built business applications in the cloud. Such services provide the pay-go-go, reduced CAPEX and elastic properties of cloud computing infrastructures.

Cloud services can be offered through infrastructures (clouds) that are publicly accessible (i.e. public cloud services), but also by privately owned infrastructures (i.e. private cloud services). Furthermore, it is possible to offer services supporting by both public and private clouds, which are characterized as hybrid cloud services.

IoT / Cloud Convergence

 
Internet-of-Things can benefit from the scalability, performance and pay-as-you-go nature of cloud computing infrastructures. Indeed, as IoT applications produce large volumes of data and comprise multiple computational components (e.g., data processing and analytics algorithms), their integration with cloud computing infrastructures could provide them with opportunities for cost-effective on-demand scaling. As prominent examples consider the following settings:

  • A Small Medium Enterprise (SME) developing an energy management IoT product, targeting smart homes and smart buildings. By streaming the data of the product (e.g., sensors and WSN data) into the cloud it can accommodate its growth needs in a scalable and cost effective fashion. As the SMEs acquires more customers and performs more deployments of its product, it is able to collect and manage growing volumes of data in a scalable way, thus taking advantage of a “pay-as-you-grow” model. Moreover, cloud integration allows the SME to store and process massive datasets collected from multiple (rather than a single) deployments.
  • A smart city can benefit from the cloud-based deployment of its IoT systems and applications. A city is likely to deploy many IoT applications, such as applications for smart energy management, smart water management, smart transport management, urban mobility of the citizens and more. These applications comprise multiple sensors and devices, along with computational components. Furthermore, they are likely to produce very large data volumes. Cloud integration enables the city to host these data and applications in a cost-effective way. Furthermore, the elasticity of the cloud can directly support expansions to these applications, but also the rapid deployment of new ones without major concerns about the provisioning of the required cloud computing resources.
  • A cloud computing provider offering pubic cloud services can extend them to the IoT area, through enabling third-parties to access its infrastructure in order to integrate IoT data and/or computational components operating over IoT devices. The provider can offer IoT data access and services in a pay-as-you-fashion, through enabling third-parties to access resources of its infrastructure and accordingly to charge them in a utility-based fashion.

These motivating examples illustrate the merit and need for converging IoT and cloud computing infrastructure.  Despite these merits, this convergence has always been challenging mainly due to the conflicting properties of IoT and cloud infrastructures, in particular, IoT devices tend to be location specific, resource constrained, expensive (in terms of development/ deployment cost) and generally inflexible (in terms of resource access and availability). On the other hand, cloud computing resources are typically location independent and inexpensive, while at the same time providing rapid and flexibly elasticity.  In order to alleviate these incompatibilities, sensors and devices are virtualized prior to integrating their data and services in the cloud, in order to enable their distribution across any cloud resources. Furthermore, service and sensor discovery functionalities are implementing on the cloud in order to enable the discovery of services and sensors that reside in different locations.

Based on these principles the IoT/cloud convergence efforts have started since over a decade i.e. since they very early days of IoT and cloud computing. Early efforts in the research community (i.e. during 2005-2009) have focused on streaming sensor and WSN data in a cloud infrastructure. Since 2007 we have also witnessed the emergence of public IoT clouds, including commercial efforts. One of the earliest efforts has been the famous Pachube.com infrastructure (used extensively for radiation detection and production of radiation maps during earthquakes in Japan). Pachube.com has evolved (following several evolutions and acquisitions of this infrastructure) to Xively.com, which is nowadays one of the most prominent public IoT clouds. Nevertheless, there are tens of other public IoT clouds as well, such as  ThingsWorx, ThingsSpeak, Sensor-Cloud, Realtime.io and more. The list is certainly non-exhaustive. These public IoT clouds offer commercial pay-as-you-go access to end-users wishing to deploying IoT applications on the cloud. Most of them come with developer friendly tools, which enable the development of cloud applications, thus acting like a PaaS for IoT in the cloud.

Similarly to cloud computing infrastructures, IoT/cloud infrastructures and related services can be classified to the following models:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) IoT/Clouds: These services provide the means for accessing sensors and actuator in the cloud. The associated business model involves the IoT/Cloud provide to act either as data or sensor provider. IaaS services for IoT provide access control to resources as a prerequisite for the offering of related pay-as-you-go services.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) IoT/Clouds: This is the most widespread model for IoT/cloud services, given that it is the model provided by all public IoT/cloud infrastructures outlined above. As already illustrate most public IoT clouds come with a range of tools and related environments for applications development and deployment in a cloud environment. A main characteristic of PaaS IoT services is that they provide access to data, not to hardware. This is a clear differentiator comparing to IaaS.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) IoT/Clouds: SaaS IoT services are the ones enabling their uses to access complete IoT-based software applications through the cloud, on-demand and in a pay-as-you-go fashion. As soon as sensors and IoT devices are not visible, SaaS IoT applications resemble very much conventional cloud-based SaaS applications. There are however cases where the IoT dimension is strong and evident, such as applications involving selection of sensors and combination of data from the selected sensors in an integrated applications. Several of these applications are commonly called Sensing-as-a-Service, given that they provide on-demand access to the services of multiple sensors. Note that SaaS IoT applications are typically built over a PaaS infrastructure and enable utility based business models involving IoT software and services.

These definitions and examples provide an overview of IoT and cloud convergence and why it is important and useful. More and more IoT applications are nowadays integrated with the cloud in order to benefit from its performance, business agility and pay-as-you-go characteristics. In following chapters of the tutorial, we will present how to maximize the benefits of the cloud for IoT, through ensuring semantic interoperability of IoT data and services in the cloud, thus enabling advanced data analytics applications, but also integration of a wide range of vertical (silo) IoT applications that are nowadays available in areas such as smart energy, smart transport and smart cities. We will also illustrate the benefits of IoT/cloud integration for specific areas and segments of IoT, such as IoT-based wearable computing.

Bio: John Soldatos is an Internet of Things and Smart Cities expert, as well as an experienced ICT & business consultant. He is the author of the book Building Blocks for IoT Analytics.

Original. Reposted with permission.

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