How middleware plays a crucial role in IoT

According to Gartner, 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016 and this figure will touch 20.8 billion by 2020. Middleware will play a vital role here.

Over the last couple of years, the Internet of Things has gained sufficient momentum and is becoming one of the fastest growing technologies in the enterprise space. IoT will massively increase the amount of data used for analysis by organizations.

Middleware for IoT acts as a bond joining the mixed domains of applications communicating over heterogeneous interfaces.

Need for middleware

Middleware implies the need for integration, transmission and security. Data from devices will need to be analyzed and then correct actions need to be taken with regards to that data. These actions could generate alerts or invoke corrective processes before routine issues snowball into disaster.

Middleware is needed for integration before data can be analyzed. There should be one tool performing all the actions rather than having different tools from diverse vendors.

Gaurav Sharma, research manager-enterprise and IPDS, IDC feels that the industry should be working on the standardization of middleware. Unless standardized, we might be staring at siloes of IoT ecosystems operating in the same way as some of our infrastructure siloes have sprung up in the past, taking away agility and scalability.

Satyajit Sarkar, AVP-IT, DTDC Courier and Cargo says, “One needs a robust and a scalable middleware that can handle backend integration, as it needs connectivity with backend application without obstructing the dynamic configuration requirements and high volume data transfers.”

Role of middleware

IoT middleware deals with the structure, format and encoding of the information that is being exchanged between different layers, devices and sensors. “It will act as a common standard amongst the diversity of devices, sensors, OS and applications that will make up the IoT ecosystem architecture. Also, it will serve APIs for physical layer communication, without exposing anything to the upper layers,” explains Sharma.

Also, middleware has a role to play in security. IoT solutions should incorporate access control and data authentication while maintaining the privacy of users and devices. “You need a fence around every asset in IoT. Systems are also required to be resilient while providing a high degree of reliability. Middleware solutions help achieve this,” says Sunil Mehra, vice president, middleware, Oracle India.

Dr. Jai Ganesh, vice president and head, Mphasis Next Labs, feels that API management is a critical function of middleware. It tries to call APIs from disparate systems, taking care of interconnection.

Architecture

A customized architecture needs time for development and testing before deployment, resulting in cost and time overrun in many projects.

“The most critical point of an IoT solution is the capability to consume data from any end point. If one has an architecture where the data consumed is only 10 out of the 20 end points, it is not good enough,” explains Mehra. The challenge is also that devices in the IoT chain are coming from all over the world with different size, shape and standards. “The architecture should have the capability to consume data immediately with the help of plug-ins or APIs.” he says.

As voluminous data gushes into an IoT system, the backend architecture should ensure that none of the data gets dropped. The data should be accessed, stored and analyzed in real time to give actionable information. So, one needs integrated and not batch systems to consume terabytes of data on the go. It is important to have big data capabilities in one’s architecture.

Ganesh feels that middleware needs to be scalable and configurable, such as when videos and multimedia content need to be passed on to the downstream systems.

Sharma explains that the use of open middleware would be ideal for most of the enterprises. The factor to look into would be the management of APIs along with other functions like routing, transformation and messaging.  Also, a new sensor or device should automatically be inducted into the ecosystem, and hence we might need additional modules to make them work. That would need the middleware to be adaptive and optimized for scalability in an agile fashion.