One of the most important aspects to consider in almost all technological projects is scalability. IoT is no different. Furthermore, if you already know your IoT solution is going to be consistently adding more devices and need to handle an increasing amount of data, scalability should be at the front of your mind. If not addressed early on, you risk increased maintenance times and issues with latency.
Scalability – The ability of a system to handle a growing amount of work by adding additional resources – remains a challenge for IoT developers. There are some unique IoT scalability issues that developers need to be aware of and ensure they get caught out by.
Thankfully, we’ve put this guide together to ensure that you’re aware of these issues and offer you some tips for the scalability of IoT devices. Let’s get into it.
Why are There Issues Around IoT Scalability?
What are the issues with IoT scalability? Well, as the IoT industry develops, so does the size of its projects. In fact, most IoT projects start off with the long-term vision of growth and, over time, better performance. However, not all developers take the necessary actions needed to scale up. There are usually a few key issues here, let’s take a look at these below:
- Lack of planning phase – When starting an IoT project, there’s a need for a strong Proof of Concept (POC) and a planning phase. Given that IoT projects come with a variety of technical and organizational factors, a large number of aspects need to be considered at the planning stage. However, a lot of the time, these aspects are unknown or ignored because they seem inconsequential at first. That being said, they could have huge ramifications for the project’s growth capacity.
- Uncertainty of compatibility with future devices – As you probably know, there are awash of new IoT devices entering the market. In fact, it’s estimated that the number of IoT connections will reach 83 billion by 2024. On top of that, all of them come with new or updated features, hardware, and/or software. What’s more, even the smallest devices could change the way they interact with IoT communication protocols. This means that the process for adding or replacing new devices 5 years from now may be completely different than it is today. This would require changing the architecture, the software, or the protocols themselves. However, this is no excuse to not at least try to future proof!
- Budgetary constraints – IoT developers can be averse to having to invest money now to avoid problems in the future. While we see their point, would you not invest in car, home, or health insurance? Also, why take the risk? Invest in IoT at scale and put your mind at rest.
Tips For IoT at Scale
Now you know some of the issues that come up around IoT scalability, let’s look at some practical tips you can employ to ensure you don’t fall into the same trappings.
1. Start Small and Build Out from There
Firstly, if you’re looking to scale responsibly, it may be a good idea to limit your growth over time.
If you start your project with a few manageable devices, periodically adding one or two over time, you won’t have to change your entire infrastructure and it won’t take much time to accommodate them.
That being said, if you do take this tip on board, it’s worth knowing that the amount of time you spend accommodating a new device might end up consuming more time than the alternative. This is because when you implement a scalable system right away, you are able to add multiple devices at once.
Like most things, this all depends on your specific IoT project. If it’s relatively small, you can gradually build up. However, if you’re looking for longer-term growth and scalability, it’s worth thinking about the bigger picture instead.
2. Use Simple Architecture
Choosing the right architecture for your project from the very beginning leads to way fewer problems in the future. Moreover, it’s important to choose an option that has the future in mind. Quite simply, don’t apply to the project you have now, but the one you have in the future.
For example, when it comes to communication between IoT devices, using the MQTT protocol’s one-to-many system might seem like a good idea with smaller projects. However, down the line it might not be as effective. This is because of its programming complexity, latency and security issues, and need for constant maintenance. For the long term, you should use a more simple architecture. Namely, a REST API which has several benefits to developers:
- Easily to scale (of course)
- More secure
- Much simpler to use
Learn more about the differences between MQTT and REST by reading our blog, MQTT vs. REST in IoT [Which Should You Choose?]
3. Use a Decentralized AEP Platform
Another way to effectively scale up your IoT project is by using a decentralized IoT Application Enablement Platform (AEP).
To explain its merits, let’s look at the alternative. A ‘traditional’ AEP solution, such as lAWS IoT or Microsoft Azure, sends data between IoT devices via the cloud. Therefore, in order for a client to interact with a device, data has to go to an external centralized database and be temporarily stored there. As you can see below:
This isn’t great for device security. This is because even if data is encrypted from client to database and from database to device, the data stored in the database is still vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
Furthermore, due to the extra step of going through the cloud, a traditional AEP solution means more latency issues since all data traffic has to be running through the same central “relay” setup.
On the other hand, a decentralized AEP platform establishes a direct connection from the client to a device:
Once a P2P (peer-to-peer) connection is set up, the only limit of the connection is the computing power of the client and device and the internet throughput rate at the two destinations.
This ensures a few things:
- low latency between IoT devices
- The scope for scalability, since the data doesn’t have to be transmitted through a central setup
- Eliminates the risk of data interception
In summary, a decentralized AEP solution allows you to scale up easier by reducing security risks and having minimal effect on the speed of communication – no matter how big you get.
4. Continually Test, Test, and Test
Our last tip is often overlooked but is super important. Whenever you’re attempting IoT at scale, make sure you’re continuously testing all aspects that might influence successful device scalability.
It’s of paramount importance to keep testing as your project scales up. Try to take records of latency levels, the devices connected, the amount of bandwidth being used, the messages being sent and received, and any other aspects that might influence how prepared your project is for growth.
Furthermore, study the current data that your project is generating and do stress tests to see its limits. And, once you have repeated this process enough, make the necessary changes to the infrastructure and start testing again.
There you have it. We hope this blog was useful in helping you overcome any IoT scalability issues you may be having.
Furthermore, while IoT projects come with their own unique scalability challenges, taking the necessary actions goes a long way in minimizing these problems.
To summarize, if you want to have an IoT project that allows scalability, recognize its challenges, have a strong planning phase, invest the necessary time and money from the beginning, and choose your architecture wisely.
And did we mention the importance of testing?
Want some help overcoming the scalability issue in IoT? Book a free consultation with one of our IoT experts today.
Read Our Other Resources
We’ve also published a range of IoT resources for our community, including:
- If you decide to use an RTOS, check out How to Choose the Best RTOS for IoT
- Buying versus building an IoT platform, which discusses how to choose the best option for you.
- Our guide on how to Develop IoT Apps and what platforms you can use.
- A Complete Guide to REST APIs will help you learn more about the world’s most popular API.
- Find the right microcontroller by reading our Complete Guide to Microcontrollers for IoT