Sunday, February 22, 2015

Best Practices, Standards, and Tools for the Internet of Things - Toward an Ecosystem of Interoperable Devices and Services

Best Practices, Standards, and Tools for the Internet of Things

As Internet of Things developers, we can now build upon existing best practices, tools, and standards to create the next level of reusable and interoperable systems. We are on the verge of a new ecosystem of interoperable devices and services.

The previous article in this series discussed a number of design patterns used for the Internet of Things. IoT system architectures are constructed from these and other basic design patterns. Basically, architecture is a structured collection of design patterns that together embody a particular set of ideas and concepts to achieve a set of goals.

A set of best practices and common design patterns are emerging, as are the Tools and Standards to embody these best practices

Since that article was written nearly nine months ago, there has been substantial progress in the Internet of Things. A number of companies have fielded and test marketed a wide range of connected products and platforms. At the same time, we are seeing the emergence of best practices and common design patterns, as well as the steady evolution of a common set of open standards and tools that embody these design patterns.

This article will introduce an emerging set of design patterns, tools, and open standards which are analogous to those which provide the framework of the World Wide Web, but developed specifically for the Internet of Things.

Web Scale Reuse and Interoperability for IoT

One benefit of using common design patterns and tools is reusability. Once a piece of software is written or hardware designed to solve a particular problem, that design and often the implementation can be reused over and over again to solve similar problems in new applications.

Reusable hardware and software reduces the cost of developing new products and systems over time. One reason the World Wide Web has scaled so well is the reuse of software, and the resulting low barrier to new applications and services.

This is achieved on the web through a common set of information abstractions, or data models. These well-known abstractions and data models enable plug and play software interoperability between many different web services and web browsers.

But IoT is not the web...

For the web to scale, each information source must have a definitive origin, web servers where the state of the resources are determined, from which representations are derived and passed to consumers of information, the client applications (web browsers).

However, instead of connecting browsers to servers, the Internet of Things connects things to software and services. This is similar to the web in some ways, but very different in others. For example, the web server is the origin of information in the web of information, but the IoT Device, or thing, is the origin of information in the IoT. Whether the end device is a sensor or actuator, it is where the state of the system is ultimately determined.

This often inverts the traditional web mapping of clients and servers, making the smaller embedded computer in the device into the server, and the larger computer in the gateway or cloud into the client. It is necessary in this way for scalability, to allow the many-to-many relationship between things and software components to emerge, resulting in web scale IoT.

Data Models are Key to Building the IoT at Web Scale

Thus for the Internet of Things, the key to achieving the scale and interoperability of the web is in a common set of abstractions between things themselves, and the software and services that provide a layer of distributed intelligence in the system.

Figure 1 - IoT Application Interoperability Through Software Abstractions

Toward an ecosystem of interoperable devices and services

In the long term, the ability for many different applications to connect to and interact with many different sensors, actuators, and controls, that is the application interoperability, will become a huge enabler for new products and services. As the ecosystem of interoperable devices and services expands, so will the value of building new devices and applications within this ecosystem.

This emerging ecosystem isn’t owned by any one business or entity, but rather it exists to enable many entities to pool their resources together to create larger opportunities for all. Open interoperability delivers on the promise of open source software, enabling all boats to rise with the tide together, without interfering with anyone’s ability to compete by delivering a superior product and experience.

Open Standards are being adopted

Over last 12-18 months, we have seen the development and gradual adoption of some new open standards that will help to create a foundation for a reusable, interoperable Internet of Things. The rest of this article will describe these standards, how they work together, and how tools are available now to make it easy for developers to use these new standards and design patterns.

Based on the Internet Protocol

The proliferation of Internet Protocol (IP) and related design patterns has created a common point for the integration of protocols for a wide range of connected devices and services. Integration of IP into Bluetooth Smart has recently been developed, and likewise there is an effort to standardize Zigbee over IP. 6LowPAN and Thread are emerging with standardization and support in communication stacks.

Layered, Modular Standards

Rather than a single organization designing these protocols as an end-to-end monolithic standard from the radio to the application, the emerging standards are layered, allowing for the modular assembly of end-to-end protocols from the  technology appropriate for the use case at each level in the stack.

This allows for existing transport and network connectivity layers to be used when practical, and the newer low power radio technology and constrained device networks to be deployed where needed, all using the same application protocols.

Open standards, royalty-free

These emerging standards are openly available and usable on a royalty free basis, without any requirement to sign NDA or license agreements. It is a common requirement for companies participating in the development of these standards agree to disclose any related IP they hold which would be required to implement the standard.

A baseline example of this is the IETF Best Current Practices memos BCP 78 and BCP 79, which document the IP rights expected to be retained by the IETF and by participating companies as an outcome of the IETF standards process. The other standards bodies mentioned in this article either, have IP policies which are modeled after the IETF.

Practical standards, available now

These are practical standards have been published and are available now, with both Open Source reference implementations and commercial products available to end product developers and service providers. Please see the end of this article for specific references and links to get started.

Modular Stack

Figure 2 shows how a set of emerging Open Standards work together in a modular way to provide uniform Protocol, API, and Data Model components that enable end to end interoperability between constrained devices and web applications.

Figure 2 - Modular, IP based Communication and Information Standards for IoT

The bottom 3 levels are shown to illustrate how various end point hardware and networks can interoperate under a layer of IP connectivity.  This common IP protocol layer in turn provides a foundation upon which a common set of protocols and data models are based.

IPSO Smart Objects are extensible application oriented web objects based on the LWM2M data model and web object API. Basic sensors, actuators, and controls such as temperature, barometer, presence, etc. are represented using a simple common data model and resource template.

These basic objects can in turn be used as building blocks for more complex objects and machines like home appliances, e.g. a coffee maker that has temperature sensors, water sensors, heaters, user controls, timers, and displays. Figure 3 is the IPSO Presence Sensor Smart Object definition.
Figure 3 - Example IPSO Smart Object for a Presence Sensor

OMA Lightweight Machine To Machine (LWM2M) is a profile for IETF CoAP and related standards. LWM2M specifies a set of common interfaces and data models to enable plug and play interoperability between CoAP devices and local or remote services.

LWM2M provides necessary device management functions like secure device on-boarding and Over The Air (OTA) upgrade and configuration of devices, using a standard set of device management objects.

LWM2M defines a simple object model using the CoAP REST API, a device management architecture using REST objects, and system features including control of asynchronous notifications. This simple object model is the basis for IPSO Smart Objects.

Figure 4 - OMA Lightweight M2M (LWM2M) Server Architecture

IETF CoAP (RFC7252) is a simple and compact wire protocol and binary mapping of the REST design pattern, optimized and extended for efficient machine to machine (M2M) communication in constrained resource environments. Asynchronous notifications, publish-subscribe, and resource discovery are standardized by the IETF for use with CoAP.

CoAP devices can operate in both client and server roles, enabling device to device interactions as well as interactions with application and management middleware. Figure 5 shows the Server role of a CoAP temperature sensor, where the application software has a client role in requesting the temperature from the sensor.

CoAP also provides a built-in protocol for the sensor to send a continuous series of asynchronous state updates to the client application, similar to web-based server push messages.
Figure 5 - CoAP Device as Server

Related IETF standards for web linking of constrained devices provide a framework for semantic discovery of resources by peer devices and applications. Resource Directory is a service layer that enables collections of resource descriptions, in the form of web links, to be cached in a server for applications to use in resource discovery. LWM2M uses Resource Directory as its device registration interface.

Standards Work Together for Modular End to End Interoperability

As with the web, a good way to achieve end to end interoperability between devices, services, and applications, is to use a common set of abstractions and data model. Following best practices from the web, this data model should be relatively independent of transport protocol, and focus on the information and semantics which are relevant to the application. IPSO Smart Objects provide a transport-independent common data model, which is simple and extensible, on which to start building end-to-end interoperable systems.

At the same time, the standardization of CoAP and LWM2M enable a plug-and-play ecosystem of IP-connected devices that can connect using different physical networks like WiFi, Bluetooth Smart, Thread, and even wired ethernet, all to the same services and applications.

LWM2M management objects and IPSO Smart Objects enable application software and device management software to use the same web object API to interact with devices. Existing LWM2M server software will support both LWM2M management objects and application objects (IPSO Smart Objects).  

The CoAP protocol allows for device-to-device local network interactions, which can in turn re-use LWM2M interfaces and management objects as well as IPSO Smart Objects.

IPSO Smart Objects can be used over HTTP, which enables the LWM2M server to act as a reverse proxy between constrained network devices and standard web applications. HTTP can be used between constrained device gateways and local apps on devices like smart phones and tablets.

IPSO Smart Objects can also be used with other protocols, for example using MQTT for asynchronous updates of object and resource state between gateways and cloud services, and for cloud-to-cloud data connections.

Larger Ecosystem is Converging Around These Standards

As the above-mentioned standards are being developed, there are other standards organizations incorporating them into their own standards development. Rather than develop new standards, these organizations are choosing to incorporate and integrate existing modular standards. This gives them a wider range of applicable use cases, since they can choose more optimum wire protocols, for example using CoAP over SMS.

OneM2M is a global consortium of network operators, service providers and related enterprises that are creating a very broad set of standards to address M2M and IoT use cases. OneM2M includes interworking with CoAP and LWM2M to provide interoperability between devices and M2M services. This makes IPSO Smart Object devices interoperable on OneM2M platforms which support these interworkings.

Likewise, the Open Interconnect Consortium will integrate existing standards, and have adopted CoAP as a constrained device wire protocol.

“The Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) will seek to define a common communication framework based on industry standard technologies to wirelessly connect and intelligently manage the flow of information among devices, regardless of form factor, operating system or service provider.”

Tools are available now from multiple sources, enabling an ecosystem of reusable software based on open source and open standards

IoT developers have access to these design patterns and standards through an ever-expanding set of both Open Source and Commercially Licensed tools.

Since the protocols are all IP based, the tools are mainly focused on the machine-to-machine endpoints of the system. One endpoint is in the devices with embedded software. Tools for this endpoint consist of embedded IDEs and operating systems, covering the range from microcontrollers like ARM mbed and Arduino, to small microprocessors like the Raspberry PI running embedded Linux environments (DD-WRT, Yocto, Tizen).

The other endpoint is an application service layer, or middleware, that devices connect to and through which applications can discover and interact with connected devices. LWM2M middleware provides a persistent endpoint through which devices and applications can interact in a scalable and secure way. Figure 6 shows resource discovery, REST API operation and asynchronous notification (push updates) using LWM2M.

Figure 6 - LWM2M Application Proxy Operations

Open Source developer tools available for LWM2M Devices :

ARM mbed - Open Source web based IDE for Cortex-M microcontrollers with a LWM2M device client in C++, also a Java LWM2M Client is available for larger devices.

Eclipse Wakaama - is a linkable code base for embedded endpoints, implements C++ LWM2M device client and server endpoints. Can be used with ARM mbed, Contiki, and other embedded system tools.

OMA LWM2M DevKit - Developer tools from the Open Mobile Ailiance for building and simulating LWM2M endpoints

For LWM2M Middleware and servers, there are both commercial license and open source licensed products available:

ARM mbed Device Server - Commercially licensed server - free developer download:

Eclipse Leshan Open Source LWM2M Server tools - Java implementation of LWM2M

OMA LWM2M DevKit (support for server in progress)

Standards and tools mentioned in this article

IPSO Smart Objects





OneM2M - has Interworking with CoAP and OMA LWM2M

Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) - uses CoAP as wire protocol, developing use case and application profiles

ARM mbed IDE

ARM mbed Device Server

Eclipse Wakaama

Eclipse Leshan

OMA LWM2M DevKit and LabKits

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