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Amazon launches IoT platform for web services

Steve Rogerson
October 14, 2015
Amazon Web Services has announced AWS IoT, a platform that makes it easy for devices – cars, turbines, sensor grids, light bulbs and more – to connect to AWS so companies can store, process, analyse and act on the volumes of data generated by connected devices on a global scale.
Devices connect to AWS IoT’s device gateway, and manufacturers can set rules for how it handles the data they send, and the actions they take when various conditions are met, such as sending an alert when a pressure sensor reports an unusually high reading or a motion detector is triggered.
Connected devices are usually operated via applications that communicate with them using APIs, but devices may not always be available to respond to API calls because of intermittent connectivity or because of power constraints. AWS IoT creates a virtual version, or shadow of each connected device that includes all the information about the device’s state and is always available so applications can check the device’s status and take actions that are automatically sent to the device once it reconnects.
A software development kit (SDK) is available to make it easy for developers to use the functionality from connected devices, and from mobile and web applications. A number of semiconductor manufacturers also have starter kits that embed the AWS IoT device SDK and offer connectivity to AWS IoT out of the box.
Today, many of the world’s leading manufacturers, developers, enterprises and smart cities use AWS to power a wide range IoT applications that span everything from energy metering and oil and gas production to fleet management and smart homes. However, operating highly available and reliable systems that connect and gather data from large fleets of things – sensors embedded in everything from manufacturing equipment and vehicle fleets, to fitness devices and homes – involves a significant amount of development and infrastructure effort. To manage this complexity, users have had to build custom middleware that can translate device protocols – so applications can interact with these devices – and provision infrastructure that can scale to support a high volume of simultaneous connections between cloud services, mobile apps and an array of devices that may connect only intermittently and have limited compute, storage or battery life.
With AWS IoT, users have a pay-as-you-go service that handles the heavy lifting involved in connecting any number of disparate devices, allowing them to interact securely with each other, cloud services and applications while keeping them up-to-date, and collecting, analysing and taking action on the continuous streams of data they generate.
“The promise of the internet of things is to make everyday products smarter for consumers, and for businesses to enable better, data-driven offerings that weren’t possible before,” said Marco Argenti, vice president at AWS. “World-leading organisations like Philips, Nasa JPL and Sonos already use AWS services to support the back-end of their IoT applications. Now, AWS IoT enables a whole ecosystem of manufacturers, service providers and application developers to easily connect their products to the cloud at scale, take action on the data they collect, and create a new class of applications that interact with the physical world.”
Devices connect to AWS IoT via the device gateway using both HTTP and message queue telemetry transport (MQTT), an industry-standard, lightweight communications protocol for sensors and mobile devices, making them interoperable independent of the protocol they use. AWS IoT also supports other protocols that users may have already implemented, and devices can communicate directly with each other regardless of the protocol they use. AWS IoT scales as the number of devices grows, providing connectivity with low latency and high throughput on a global scale.
It provides mutual authentication so data are never exchanged between devices and AWS IoT without proven identity, and encrypts all data coming into and out of connected devices. AWS IoT is fully integrated with AWS IAM identity and access management, making it easy for users to set granular permissions for individual devices, or fleets of devices, and manage them throughout the lifecycle of the device. Users can generate and embed security credentials in their existing connected devices, or AWS IoT can generate new ones when devices are first activated.
A rules engine lets users define rules that filter, process and route data between devices, AWS and applications. Using the management console, the command line interface or APIs, users can create rules that apply to data from a single device such as a sensor, a group of devices such as a sensor array, or a mix of devices and data sources such as a sensor array and data stored in Amazon Dynamo DB.
Rules specify conditions that, when verified, instruct AWS IoT to take actions such as routing data to Amazon Kinesis, Amazon S3, Amazon Redshift, Amazon Machine Learning or Amazon Dynamo DB. For example, it may receive messages from connected industrial equipment that produce vast amounts of telemetry data each hour, not all of which may be relevant to the business. With the rules engine, the business can instruct it to filter certain types of sensor data – for example pump pressure – as they come in, and route only the specified data to Amazon Kinesis Firehose to be streamed into an Amazon Redshift data warehouse for later analysis.
Rules can also trigger AWS Lambda to run code that will take more complex actions, such as compressing data, or sending a push notification to an operator if an anomaly is detected. Users can update rules without intervention on the physical device, reducing the cost and effort involved in updating and maintaining large fleets of devices.
A persistent, virtual version, or shadow, of every device is created and this stores the latest state of a device so applications or other devices can read messages from the device and interact with it anytime – even if it is offline. By providing always-available Rest APIs, it makes it easier to build applications that interact with connected devices. Applications can read the state of a device or set a desired future state through API calls, and AWS IoT takes care of setting the correct state, sending only relevant changes to the device once it reconnects.
Through the AWS hardware partner programme, a growing ecosystem of semiconductor manufacturers, including Arrow, Broadcom, Intel, Marvell, Mediatek, Microchip, Qualcomm, Renesas, SeedStudio and Texas Instruments, are offering IoT starter kits powered by AWS that include the SDK and hardware components that are ready to connect to AWS IoT. Available for purchase on Amazon, these kits provide a wide range of microcontroller, sensor and development boards that developers and manufacturers can use to prototype AWS IoT enabled connected devices.
“At Philips we aim to empower people to take greater control of their health with digital solutions that support healthy living and improved care coordination,” said Jeroen Tas, CEO of healthcare informatics at Philips. “Our HealthSuite digital platform and its device cloud are already managing more than seven million connected, medical-grade and consumer devices, sensors and mobile apps. With the addition of AWS IoT, we will greatly accelerate the pursuit of our vision. It will be easier to acquire, process and act upon data from heterogeneous devices in real time. Our products, and the care they support, are enabled to grow smarter and more personalised over time.”
Nasa and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have instruments all over the solar system and beyond serving humanity with amazing data. Much of these data are already processed in the cloud, and this is increasing daily. Nasa’s experiments with AWS IoT have been highly positive and demonstrate that Nasa can now use the compute power of the cloud to integrate and process the data provided by sensors in mobile devices, smart devices, conference rooms, clean rooms and beyond. The AWS IoT integration with the foundational AWS make it a very powerful platform for Nasa JPL to build meaningful, connected, IoT experiences.
Diversey Care, a division of Sealed Air Corp, is a provider of smart, sustainable products for cleaning and hygiene.
“We're excited about AWS IoT to provide scalable and efficient connectivity for our connected internet of clean products,” said Ilham Kadri, president of Diversey Care. “Supporting millions of connected cleaning appliances means we have to process massive amounts of telemetry and command data from these devices reliably, with low latency and cost-effectively. Now we can rely on AWS IoT for that critical infrastructure, and focus on helping our customers create cleaner, healthier environments.”
Rachio makes a Wifi smart sprinkler controller that helps users water for better results and lower costs by adjusting for weather conditions and adapting to their yard.
“Building connected devices is challenging enough, but great mobile apps are the primary way customers interact with our sprinkler controllers,” said Franz Garsombke, chief technology officer at Rachio. “AWS IoT’s device shadows greatly simplify our app development. Our apps can use AWS IoT’s secure Rest APIs to retrieve the last reported state of a sprinkler controller (environmental data), or set a desired future state (watering time and amount). It means our app development can move faster than ever, and we can focus even more on building a great customer experience.”
Michael O'Neil is chief technology officer at Intersection, one of the companies behind Link NYC, an initiative that will replace the aging network of public pay phones into networked hubs that provide information and connectivity across New York city.
“Our smart city products need to evolve with the needs of tax payers over time," said O’Neil. “We're constantly experimenting in order to do that. AWS IoT is great for us because we can prototype quickly with SDKs for C, Javascript and Arduino, or even choose a readymade starter kit. As our prototypes mature into production features, we can feel secure that AWS IoT will also support them at urban scale.”
Many users require additional IoT software and services to extend the AWS IoT platform, and AWS Partner Network (APN) partners provide operating systems, management platforms, analytics and services that work with AWS IoT. For example, the Micrium and Ubuntu operating systems have the ability to run the device SDK and connect to AWS IoT. And if users need additional device management capabilities, such as over-the-air updates or remote diagnostics, partners such as Ayla Networks, Cirrus Link, Thingworx and Xively offer these services.
As data flow into AWS, users can get insights and predictions through APN partner Splunk. Finally, users that want help bringing all these pieces together and customising them for their specific use can work with system integrator partners Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Thinglogix, Two Bulls and a whole host of others.
Launched in 2006, AWS provides a robust, fully featured technology infrastructure platform in the cloud comprised of a broad set of compute, storage, database, analytics, application and deployment services from data centres in the USA, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Ireland, Japan and Singapore. More than a million customers, including fast-growing start-ups, large enterprises and government agencies across 190 countries, rely on AWS to lower IT costs and scale applications globally.