A Complete Guide to IoT Architecture

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing from strength to strength. IoT projects are in development across a huge variety of industries thanks to the technology’s automation, data gathering, and processing potential.

However, understanding IoT architecture is key to creating a successful IoT project and leveraging all of its benefits. Why? Because it can give you a clear vision of how everything works and how different components interact. In its essence, IoT architecture ensures data gets where it needs to and is processed correctly. Without proper IoT architecture, networks would become unreliable, defeating the entire purpose of investing in IoT in the first place.

Let’s look at the most important aspects of IoT architecture, how it’s structured, and the different types and layers.

An Introduction to Architecture

Architecture is the group of rules and guidelines that determine how components must behave with each other in a system to reach a specific goal. In other words, it’s a blueprint for the implementation of computer systems and how they function.

This can help us understand the definition, development, and composition of IoT architecture.

While there is no true consensus on what exactly defines IoT architecture – as projects vary greatly in scope and use cases – there are some key aspects that all IoT projects should have, and these are the ones we are going to be looking into.

In a nutshell, architecture in IoT is a framework that defines:

  • How the physical components behave (IoT devices)

  • The network configuration

  • How the data is handled (how it’s stored and gathered)

  • What procedures are executed for operation

  • How the system functions

The Building Blocks of Connected Devices

The architecture of an IoT system defines how it behaves and operates. This means that making the right decisions while developing IoT solutions is crucial for the success of the project and for unlocking the benefits.

Therefore, it’s crucial you carefully consider four building blocks when developing an IoT project:

  1. Functionality: Or, how the system functions. How the devices behave, how they communicate with each other, what data they collect, how and when they collect data, how the system should work autonomously, etc.
  2. Scalability: Or, the ability of a system to accommodate growth. Design decisions implemented in the development stage will allow a system to grow with time by adding new devices or collecting more data without having to restructure the architecture completely and being able to overcome issues.
  3. Availability: Or, how often and reliably the system remains active. Availability refers to the stableness of a system and the integrity of its data.
  4. Maintainability: Or, how the system is built to take maintenance into account. This includes regular maintenance, updating of hardware or software, and generally keeping the system at the peak of its possible performance.

The Importance of Layers in IoT Architecture

“Layers” define and categorize an IoT architecture. Since there is no clear consensus on what exactly entails an IoT architecture, developers and manufacturers define these categories differently. As a result, some include more layers than others.

All agree that layers differ from one another in what functional area they fall into. In a nutshell, IoT architecture consists of smart devices that gather data, networks that allow for communication between devices, middleware IoT platforms, and applications that users can use to interact with the IoT system.

Device Layer

The device layer encompasses all of the devices capable of capturing, processing, and communicating data through the internet and acting on that data. Any part of an IoT device that gathers information is a sensor, such as a surveillance camera, pressure sensor or thermostat. Any part of a device that acts on data is an actuator. For example, a door lock that opens based on data gathered from a biometric scanner is an actuator.

Transport Layer

The transport or connectivity layer defines how IoT devices and controllers communicate with each other. Ultimately, this layer defines which devices communicate data with each other and how they do it.

IoT communication protocols, networks, gateways, and Date Acquisition Systems are established for analog data (captured by IoT devices) to be transformed into digital data and sent over the internet.

Processing Layer

The processing layer defines how data is analyzed, received, and processed in the IoT system. In a cloud-centric model, the cloud data center receives data from the IoT devices via the transport layer and begins monitoring, managing, and storing it to make it usable by the system and/or the end-user. In an edge processing model, devices all over the network process most of their data internally and then send the results to a receiving device, often via peer-to-peer (P2P) communication.

P2P simply means devices can communicate directly, without needing to send data through a cloud server. It’s generally faster and more reliable than a cloud-centric model since there’s no need for a third-party server or database to process the data.

Application/User Interface Layer

The software developed for maintaining, altering, and interacting with the IoT system makes up the application layer. An application-level software could be in the form of a mobile app, desktop program, or internet webpage.

Business Layer

Finally, the business layer refers to business-level decisions taken by companies or people using an IoT system. If an IoT system shows ways of reducing costs or improving productivity, the decisions to invest in better equipment or change procedures are taken in this layer.

Why Gathering Insights Matters

There’s plenty to consider when approaching the topic of IoT architecture. As mentioned, however, understanding the ins and outs of connected devices can help you to leverage all of IoT’s benefits. This is especially true for businesses. Armed with the right architecture, enterprises can leverage the interconnectivity of smart devices and systems, group them to measure certain data, and form new business models and uses.

For example, organizations with an IoT architecture are significantly more successful than those without. Successful companies – those that rank in the top third of all companies when it comes to saving money, driving new revenue, or improving business processes via IoT – are 34% more likely architecture to have an IoT than less successful firms. In the uncertainty of today, insights from IoT can make or break businesses in the long term.

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