IoT Platforms Vertically versus Horizontally layered architecture

IoT Platforms: Vertically versus Horizontally layered architecture

The Internet of Things has risen as a technology which will revolutionize many aspects of our social and economic lives, from the way we work, take decisions, or buy products. To be able to truly deliver on its expectations IoT will have to be within the reach of everyone and not a 18 months long project with a six digits budget.

In our last post we’ve outlined the most common problems faced when it comes to IoT adoption. Some of these are inherent to any new technology while others are mostly associated with the way the technology is offered or productized. At this moment there are roughly 400 IoT platforms on the market, each of them trying to onboard as many “things” as possible. An important and relevant way to the matter at hand is categorizing these platforms using the following two categories:

  • Vertically layered architecture: platforms that resolve a particular set of problems in a very specific way. They usually address a single industry or very similar problems across industries. The customer is offered with a limited set of options or features that come pre-build.
  • Horizontally layered architecture: platforms that don’t address a particular problem but rather provide the tools needed to solve problems across various industries. Instead of being pre-build the product or solution is custom built based on the customer’s needs.

Both of these architectures come with pros and cons and some might go with the speed of a pre-build product from a vertically layered platform while others might choose the customisation options of a horizontally layered architecture. Each of these approaches provide customers with probably the best solution for a given requirement, at a given time. However, considering the problem of increasing IoT’s adoption and more importantly making it a disruptive innovation technology in the sense professor Clay Christensen explained here, we believe that horizontally layered platforms are the ones that are going to help IoT deliver on its promise.

Even though it might be counterintuitive at first and probably easier to go for a vertical out of the box solution, building one of these for each of the problems IoT can solve is not really going to help on the long run. One relevant example is the telecommunications industry which spent decades deploying “silo” like services before moving into a horizontally layered and opened architecture. This allowed not only for better and diverse services but also enabled standardization and market differentiation between service providers. Innovative services could be built by integrating platforms from various vendors allowing service providers to avoid vendor lock down situations. Following this example IoT will be able not only to increase adoption but also enable the rollout of products and services that will truly change our lives.

Vertical platforms certainly have their role and probably most of the successful services right now are based on this kind of platforms, however, on the longer term if IoT is to become a technology at everyone’s reach we will need the tools to use it and not a black box.

Horizontally layered architectures will enable standardization and clear definitions of what these layers should do and how they communicate with each other. Rather than building vertical services covering multiple areas of expertise, companies will be able to focus on the layers that they are experts in and leave the rest to others. All of this might sound a bit like Henry Ford’s theory but innovative or better products and services could build on top of these expert platforms that cover smaller parts of a job rather than these vertical silos which only do well two things out of five.

Considering the most common problems faced by companies rolling out IoT projects, we can imagine how confidence in IoT can rise once companies are faced with standardized platforms that can be used together to deliver products or services without the fear of adopting a dying technology or being vendor locked forever. Decision makers would have an easier task of choosing the right components and deliver a custom product that covers all requirements rather than finding a best fit and hope for the best. Technical evaluators will have an easier task of finding the best product delivering a particular job and will not have to go for the best overall solution while struggling to understand its architecture. Standardized functionalities could easily find an owner within a company, clarifying responsibilities and budget expenses. Open and standard interfaces will allow products to evolve and be reused rather than replaced, hence lowering costs and risks. Existing products within a company, with proven record and already acquired knowledge, could be used on delivering new projects or products decreasing both costs and roll out time.

Although Simfony encourages and supports all ideas related to IoT, even the ones about vertical services, we really hope to see more of the above happening. And in order to “put our money where our mouth is” – we’ve started out for you the Simfony IoT platform so you can become a MVNO

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