Open Source’s Role in the Internet of Things

June 23, 2016 Patricia Johnson

open source IoT

The future of your enterprise here and that future is the Internet of Things (IoT).

Less than a decade ago, it was pure pie in the sky that you would be able to remotely control your home’s thermostat, lights, locks and even feed your dog remotely from your smartphone, however this dream is now a reality.  As it stands, there are currently 6.4 billion IoT devices, and this number is set to grow to nearly 21 billion by 2020.  A further indication of the growth of IoT is that smartphone manufacturers are releasing their SDKs so application developers can connect to their device, thus allowing their ecosystems to grow. So, if your enterprise hasn’t started exploring the market opportunities this sphere has to offer, it really should have.

Now, I’m sure you’re as excited about IoT as me. The next question then, is which type of platform enables your devices to thrive in an IoT space? the answer is, of course, open source.

It's All Connected

I’m sure you’re not surprised to learn that your success in the IoT market hinges on the connectivity of your devices. However devices, more often than not, share different hardware and operating systems which seem to be an obstacle to the very connectivity we’re aiming for. Yet fear not. The open source enthusiasts amongst you might have guessed where the answer lies – in open source APIs.

If you haven’t pushed your developers to build open source APIs in your smart devices, it’s time you did. Open source APIs offer a uniform gate for different software, hardware and systems to communicate with one another. Netbeast is one of open source IoT platforms leading the way, offering an API which works with all smart home devices, regardless of specification. However open source APIs are not the only benefit that an open source IoT framework has to offer.

Open source projects such as Linux Foundation’s Iotivity are ushering in the age of connected IoT devices. By developing an open standard specification and certification program for smart devices, developers are able to contribute to and achieve a connected IoT framework composed of a range of devices.

Furthermore, due to Iotivity being open source, your developers will be able to build products which will be able to secure interoperability across OS such as Android, iOS, Windows and Linux to name a few. Also, if Iotivity is not for you, there are many other open source IoT platforms such as Node-Red, Kaa and the previously mentioned Netbeast. Yet, even if you leverage open source to build great connected devices, all your efforts will be in vain if you are can’t keep up with the speed of technological innovation or get your products to market before your competitors. 

A Toolbox Full of Tricks

Due to the range of SDKs, libraries, and open source hardware (e.g. Arduino and Raspberry Pi) that open source offers, an open source IoT framework injects your software development lifecycle with innovation and agility that proprietary models simply fail to match. After all, why to reinvent the wheel every time you build a new product when your developers can draw upon tried and tested resources which are readily available. Furthermore, as you will no longer have to keep on building from scratch, the time and cost of your software lifecycle will be reduced.

An open source IoT framework also means your developers ensure you remain on the bleeding edge of technology, using open sourced tools to customise your IoT platform to suit your company’s needs. Not only that, your developers’ can dedicate their time to creating customised functions and features which will make your products stand out in the crowded marketplace. The benefits of an open source IoT framework doesn’t stop there. The open source community itself means you can reduce the risks of building bleeding edge devices.

More Heads Are Better Than One

As I’m sure you know, for many developers coding is more of a vocation than a profession.  And although they may write proprietary code during work hours, I’m willing to bet they engage with open source projects when they’re off the clock. So, why not utilise these skills rather than squandering them?

By adopting an open source IoT framework, you are not only drawing on the skills of your developers but the whole open source community. Additionally, with this increased support, your developers have the inspiration and space to build new applications which they wouldn’t have dreamed of. By now I think I should have won most of you over to benefits of an open source IoT framework. However, I can hear some concerned voices from the security bunker asking, “Doesn’t all this connectivity via an open source framework entail severe security risks?”

IoT Doesn’t Need To Be Scary

A recent IOActive IoT Security Survey found that less than 10% of IoT devices have adequate security, and this matter shouldn’t be taken lightly. The most daunting part of IoT vulnerability is the ability for hackers to infiltrate and control a network of devices. Just consider what happened last year when hackers breached a Jeep Cherokee’s Uconnect system, controlling everything from the car’s air conditioning system to its accelerator. So, I’m sorry to that CSOs really do have a right to be concerned. However, due to the perfect match between IoT and open source, the baby must not been thrown out with the bathwater.

In order get security on your side before you embark on your IoT venture, it’s essential as CTO you define your security guidelines to include such measures as cross-authentication-methods between devices and servers as well as proactive malignant code detection and prevention. However, such security risks are unfortunately made worse by the often opaque security vulnerabilities within open source.

It’s a truism that developers just want to develop, so if you rely on your developers to keep track of your open source materials, you can bet corners will be cut. Therefore it’s essential you give your developers easily accessible open source usage and vulnerability information throughout your software development lifecycle. In short, it would be a crying shame to pass up the huge opportunities an open source IoT framework has to offer just because of surmountable security risks.

Open Source is the Future of IoT

As I said before, the future is here and the future is IoT, and if you want to be a player rather than a mere spectator, adopting an open source platform is the way to go.

You can no longer rely on proprietary models to ensure the success of your enterprise, as IoT offers an exciting disruptive future that no single company can effectively reap all the opportunities and rewards of.

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