Device Decisions: Questions That Drive Your Edge Point Hardware Selection

Diego Borrego, CTO, The Morey Corporation
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Diego Borrego, CTO, The Morey Corporation

As the technological demands of the IoT continue to evolve into more diverse and specialized platforms, choosing an edge device and partner that can design and manufacture the ideal hardware to your business models can be a game-changing decision. Taking into account the weight and far-reaching implications edge device choices can yield, executives scouting out vendors and new device ideas should operate under the notion that “if you want to enable an IoT business model that has never been done before, you’ll likely have to design edge hardware that’s never been built before.

Many executives overlook basic criteria in device makeup that can have lasting negative impacts on business outcomes. Before getting knee deep in the mix of edge device and potential partners, take a moment to ponder some critical questions.

What’s your End-Game?

It’s a common misconception that the edge device is a stand-alone component of the IoT system; its GPS tracker or it’s a rugged tablet or it’s a point of sale box. When you are enabling a disruptive business model, rather than adopting this mentality, think of the edge device from a holistic standpoint. In the beginning stages of working out details such as functionality and size, it’s important to visualize everything you want to accomplish and gain from your IoT system as a whole. Work to build out a list of non-negotiable features and capabilities you need from IoT system and use this as a roadmap as you select the various components in your system including the back office platform, database technology, edge device, etc. This will guide your decision making and general specification development to ensure the device yields the intended return on investment.

A great way to go about creating your “list of demands” is to ask yourself: where does the edge device functionality sit in the total context of your system? Many times, functions of conventional IoT systems can sit at different locations of your system stack. For example, geo- fencing can happen on an edge device or in the back office. Start broadly by defining what your desired end result is and then you can better determine where different pieces of functionality “belong” in the context of the entire system.

What’s your Bottom Line?

It’s pretty safe to say that the first time you purchased a new car; you were probably smitten with its curb appeal more than attributes like fuel efficiency and maintenance costs. As time progressed, the realities of the total cost of ownership crept up in the rearview mirror. This same mistake, made by countless first-time car buyers, can also serve as a purchasing pitfall when selecting or designing your IoT device.

Devices can come with a number of unforeseen expenses throughout their life. This is where your list of demands will come into play, giving you more clarity on what you want from the device, and the proper investments within the manufacturing, deployment and maintenance phases. While it may seem insignificant in relation to the system as a whole, neglecting the long-term cost associated with your edge device could prove to be an expensive mistake that results in your company having to shell out unanticipated cash to correct.

Thinking about hardware in the total context of your system’s functionality, the device itself differs from other components of your system such as an application enablement program (AEP). Most situations that arise with an AEP can be resolved relatively quick, just by working with software a single server. Because edge devices are by their nature “distributed and remote” working to resolve an edge device failure point can require a greater deal of effort and cause interruptions with service and destroy your business model very quickly. Make a strong effort to cover your back in the case of a device failure by checking with your manufacturing vendor to see how much protection their warranty offers, should a device need to be repaired or replaced. Edge devices should always be “field upgradeable” via over-the-air (OTA) software downloads. This many times will be a savior; however, it is not free in terms of airtime and management costs.

Of course, the best way to prevent hardware failures is to ensure the device is designed and manufactured with reliability as a target from the beginning. During the design and manufacturing stages, your team should be constantly evaluating the hardware for quality, ruggedness, durability and reliability. Hardware devices are expensive to replace or repair so once a device has been deployed, your goal should be to touch it as little as possible.

What Level of Security will you need?

As the IoT continues to grow, it should be all but expected that the discussion surrounding security will grow with it. As with any other complex system, IoT security of should be built in a layered fashion. This means it is up to you to decide at what point your system needs to be protected. It’s no secret that implementing security safeguards into your system could come with a hefty price tag, but executives are charged with making good business decisions and failing to secure all possible entry points to your data can greatly compromise your business.

To come to a decision on where to install security features into your system, the best approach would be to start from the top and work your way down. Follow the path of data from your edge device all the way to the end user presentation layer (GUI or App). The most vulnerable part of your system is not always obvious. Is it the gateway server connected to internet because it is more accessible, with more people looking to hack? Or is it the smart phone app because of its simplicity? Due to the distributed nature of edge devices, the potential for hacking is greatly reduced because of the amount of work it would take to impact the system as a whole. More than likely your IoT system will require security at different layers, the important trade off is where to best spend your security dollars to close the biggest vulnerabilities.

Making the right edge device decisions can be a daunting task but it’s much easier when you’re armed with the necessary tools to help guide you through the process. Take the time to map out your plan and determine your best case scenario for sourcing, manufacturing and deployment. Of course, there is no guaranteed blueprint for success but by asking yourself these targeted questions, your chances of a positive outcome stands to dramatically increase.

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