A technical insight: How does an IoT solution actually work?

IoT can be described as “a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.”

Still don’t understand? I don’t blame you. Although a quick google search will turn up lots of articles and posts explaining what the Internet of Things is and its many potential benefits, it isn’t made clear how an IoT solution actually works. Hopefully we can clear this up.

In the broadest sense, the term IoT encompasses everything connected to the internet, but it is increasingly being used to define objects that “talk” to each other. Put simply, the Internet of Things is made up of devices – from simple sensors to smartphones and wearables – connected together. By combining these connected devices with automated systems, it is possible to gather information, analyse it and create an action to help someone with a particular task, or learn from a process.

It’s important to note that IoT isn’t technology per se, but a way of using a number of end-to-end technologies in concert to produce a visible and meaningful outcome.

Consider a parking app that helps you to track when a parking space is likely to become available at your office. This app may need to be integrated with navigation mobile apps (like Google maps for instance) and integrate feeds such as weather, time of day and public event schedules to see how they impact parking in order to forecast parking availability.

If we start to break this solution down, we can see we need;

  • a sensor
  • network connectivity
  • storage
  • data processing
  • machine learning capability
  • an app

And that is just the bare minimum! There are many more mindboggling features still to add on.

So, what if we break it down even further? First, we start with monitoring.

To protect an end-to-end service, we need to think not only about monitoring the endpoints and devices which contribute to providing that service, but the service itself as a whole. Cloud monitoring is the process of reviewing, monitoring and managing the operational workflow and processes within a cloud-based IT asset or infrastructure. At ANS, we use manual or automated IT monitoring to ensure that a cloud infrastructure or platform performs optimally and answers to all our customer’s needs.

Still with us? Good! The next stage is the all-important connectivity. In an IoT solution, there are a number of required levels of connectivity. Sensors typically need to talk to some form of gateway over a localised connectivity which then needs to backhaul data from that sensor to a cloud service. Sensors very often connect to standard wired or wireless LANs, but they may also use cellular comms or a low-power equivalent such as NB-IOT or LoraWAN. In all cases, security becomes paramount: authentication and segmentation become key elements of the solution. The data backhaul might be required over a private WAN back to ANS DCs, or over encrypted tunnels across the internet to the cloud – router and firewall combinations are required to make these happen effectively and securely. But essentially, the easier and more secure we can make the networking, the better.

When we are deploying technologies explicitly, perhaps as part of a refresh, we need to consider that we’re not doing it in isolation. Sometimes we provide technology which is an enabler for the customer to develop new secure solutions and sometimes we are able to build new services on top of existing ones. Whatever project we are considering with the customer, we need to take the wider view and understand their technology estate as a whole to know whether a technology refresh gives them infrastructure that can meet all their needs over time.

Hopefully that gives you a clearer insight into how an IoT solution works. Building, testing and deploying a solution can be a complex process which is why here at ANS we involve every technical department across the business, from our pre-sales team who map out the solution to cloud architects, enterprise architects, project managers and so on and it’s this team of dedicated experts that have helped us to make a name for ourselves in the IoT market.

We’ve been working with Cityverve a consortium of organisations which are working together to deliver a smarter, connected Manchester which will use technology to change the lives of those living and working in the city, as well as building a blueprint for smart cities worldwide. The vision sees the union of pioneering IoT initiatives and a team of real world experts to deliver endless possibilities for the city and its people such as improved healthcare, transport and the environment. To read more about the project, click here.

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