Trends and Outlook

The entire area of IoT gateways, sensor networks, and so on is a fast-moving field of the IoT. In the following interview with Mitko Vasilev, CTO of openBerlin Cisco IoT Innovation Center in Berlin, we discuss some of the current trends in gateway technologies.

Dirk Slama: Mitko, Cisco is making a big push in the direction of fog computing. What developments can we expect in this area?

Mitko Vasilev: We are digitizing our environment to optimize our business processes, our social communities, and our personal lives. The exponential data growth and requirements for real-time digitization will require an additional intelligence layer with complete cloud functionality that will be distributed at the edge of the network, where the Internet ends and the real world begins. A number of major companies have adopted an open IoT architecture incorporating a new intelligence layer at the edge known as “fog”.

The fog layer will lead to a paradigm shift in distributed compute, storage, and analytics. Today, businesses typically deploy separate devices and multiple software controllers for different services. The fog concept combines services, orchestration, manageability, and programmability in a single distributed platform.

Fog-based architectures will change how devices are connected and data is processed, both for Enterprise IoT and Home IoT gateways. Today, data is sent to, processed, and stored in public or private clouds. There the data is analyzed and commands are sent back to the devices to act upon that information, and operators are then notified. Fog computing helps to overcome the costly need to constantly move data to a single data lake, and enables both stream analytics and the transformation of plain data into actionable data close to data points in near real-time analytics. The new methodologies are opening up new business models and also help to meet modern compliance and regulation policies. This is critical for accelerating the mass adoption of the IoT today, and will provide the cost-effective, scalable, and stable infrastructure that is required for future growth.

Dirk Slama: Let’s focus on home gateways for a moment. What’s happening in this space?

Mitko Vasilev: Home IoT gateways are merging and will continue to merge into several common hardware platforms that differ in terms of the software and services used. The underlying operating system is typically based on open-source Linux implementations (predominantly Debian variations, Busy Box, or Yocto) combined with a number of open community-supported tools for orchestration and device management. The current trend in the area of entertainment-enabled gateways will continue with a big emphasis on video streaming to any device, home media services, and integrated home monitoring and management capabilities. Gateways will need to interact with appliances and control systems in the home by using radios and IoT communication stacks (such as Bluetooth low energy or variations of 802.15.4 on 868 MHz/902 MHz ISM bands, like ZigBee and Z-Wave). IoT middleware systems will use gateways to expand environment-sensing capabilities, either with in-built sensors or sensors connected mainly via wireless technology. This will provide the necessary data and platforms for IoT applications to offer a completely personalized home experience. Open-source hardware platforms based on general-purpose CPUs are making these applications more attractive in terms of cost and ease of use, paving the way for the mass adoption of personalized services like control devices for temperature, light, and security systems.

Most gateways will provide connectivity over multiple ISM (Industrial, Scientific, and Medical) radio bands simultaneously (i.e. 169/433/868/902 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5 GHz). This is in response both to the dense environment of connected things and to requirements for higher data rates in the gigabit range. The radios integrated in the gateways have already begun to combine BLE, wireless, and new standard-based 802.15.4 radios into a single embedded chip, and this trend is set to continue to an even greater extent. Multiple industry alliances will enable local area connectivity and interoperability between IoT gateways and home appliances, both on a networking and a software communication level. However, interoperability still remains a major challenge to be overcome in the near future.

The application-hosting capabilities of home IoT gateways will open up a new “platform-as-a-service” (PaaS)-style application delivery to connected homes for an improved end-user experience. The combination of gateways, IoT PaaS, and IoT middleware software layers in the cloud will create an open end-to-end vertical architecture.

The cybersecurity mechanisms aligned with IEEE standards (such as 802.1x for device authentication, 802.11i for securing wireless transmissions, and so on) will be auto-enabled on the majority of home IoT gateways as well on the devices they will connect.

SoC circuits combining general-purpose CPUs and DSPs for offloading multimedia processing and accelerating protocol translations will become increasingly common in home IoT gateways.

Dirk Slama: Thanks! And what about the enterprise side of things?

Mitko Vasilev: The hardware architecture of Enterprise IoT gateways will fall into two major CPU architectures: ARM-based CPUs for low-end – and, in some specific cases, mid-range – gateways, and x86-based CPUs for certain mid-level and all high-level product lines. The unification of CPU architectures will facilitate cross-platform deployment of business applications and simplify native services as well as virtualization integration. Most gateways will provide combined hardware and software stacks that will already be highly optimized for end-to-end secure IoT architecture.

Monolithic operating systems will be virtualized to achieve increased optimization of the underlying hardware. In modern Enterprise IoT gateways, different hypervisor technologies (such as KVM, WR, etc.) will be used in order to optimize the prevailing multi-core architectures. Linux-/UNIX-based operating systems with enterprise-level support will be predominant due to their flexibility and business applications ecosystem. Most modern gateway-operating systems will be componentized into dynamic micro-services (i.e. routing, security, content delivery, application container hosting, etc.), which will enable optimized use of the constrained embedded environment. For the enterprise market, the hardware refresh cycle is generally in the range of 20+ years, which will introduce more purpose-built IoT hardware with extended hardware lifecycles. The mainstream availability of new gateways and services is driving the demand for purpose-built gateways for specific verticals that will clone a single flexible architecture. Reference designs will be structured into groups, mainly due to different certification, compliance, and business requirements. Gateway modularity will be significant for flexible IoT deployment and, due to the need for different interfaces – IEEE 802.11, IEEE 802.15.4, Modbus, RS485/232 – and many other open and proprietary connections, will continue to play an important role in the coming decades.

Fog computing will enable middleware services as well as distributed compute and storage capacities across all gateway ranges. More advanced orchestration and management mechanisms will optimize resources across the entire edge of the enterprise domain. Pure connectivity gateways for IoT enterprise applications will not be able to provide the new business model infrastructure required by industry-disruptive trends like the Internet of Things.

Local wireless connectivity will be based on more standardized ISM bands, IEEE 802.11, and IEEE 802.15.4. Strong enterprise-level cybersecurity policy mechanisms will be enforced on all communication in order to ensure industry-certified compliance (802.1x, 802.11i, and others).

Local wired connectivity is shifting towards the predominant Gigabit Ethernet in low- and mid-level IoT gateways, with higher adoption of multi-gigabit interfaces (2.5 Gbps, 5 Gbps, 10 Gbps) in high-end gateways. Multi-gigabit speeds will be needed on gateways combining high-speed IEEE 802.11ac wireless interfaces, business requirements for high-speed throughput, and bandwidth-demanding applications. Speed is nothing without control, and this principle also applies to the enterprise networking domain. Deterministic networking provides guaranteed networking services and, once based on IEEE Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN), the technology will enable Enterprise IoT gateways for new use cases and cybersecurity mechanisms for industry verticals such as manufacturing, automotive, and so on. Proprietary deterministic networks will disappear over the next decade as the refresh cycle of industrial customers becomes aligned with open TSN architecture based on IEEE standards.

Enterprise IoT gateways are based on multi-core compute efficient hardware architecture that provides the necessary performance capabilities for complex analytics and programmability functions on the gateway itself. A greater number of protocol translation and data normalization functions will be hardware-accelerated by purpose-built CPUs and software stacks for IoT purposes. Hypervisors will provide the necessary abstraction layer for the cost-optimized use of the underlying hardware as well as for the secure isolation and execution of multiple microservices in the fog layer.

Permanent storage capacity will grow to terabytes of SSD storage, allowing the distributed storage layer to optimize data allocation and storage operations. The majority of process-specific data will be stream processed at the edge of the enterprise domain and stored in a distributed manner between the fog and cloud layers. Stream analytics provides the mechanisms for acting on data close to the data source and mitigating the latency between line-of-business and the cloud.

IoT middleware will scale from fog gateways to the cloud layer, thus providing data, applications, policies, analytics, and an improved user experience across the business. Lightweight analytics engines will be built inside the gateway stack and will be programmed and controlled by centralized business intelligence applications via REST APIs.

Element management functionality will be tied to virtualization in a true software-defined networking architecture, with most functions abstracted in network and device controllers. Open protocols for communication will become predominant, with wider adoption of industry-based standards MQTT, XMPP, AMQP, and dozens of others that will serve specific business and operational needs.

The Internet of Things is disrupting the design and operation of enterprise and home networks at an unprecedented rate. The importance of starting with open, standard-based architecture today is rapidly becoming a key factor for ensuring business success in the future.