Even if scaling is one of the main goals for IoT Solutions, things can quickly get out of hand in the IoT world if the right tools aren’t employed: it’s one thing to deploy, monitor, maintain and update a couple of devices out in the field, and a whole different one to have an entire fleet. That’s when device management platforms turn out to be essential.
Management platforms offer a wide range of tools and features to link devices to the cloud as efficiently as possible. These platforms allow businesses to remotely monitor, manage and update devices, all of which translates into four major benefits:
- Focus on your core value proposition: Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel by developing a custom device management solution or manually going through a bunch of devices to update their firmware, management platforms let you focus on what you’re good at and your customer’s needs.
- Centralize operations: A manual approach to updating or troubleshooting devices is not only inefficient but can also just be impossible to execute, especially due to geographical barriers. These platforms bring your fleet into the palm of your hand, allowing you to keep an eye on them without moving from your desk.
- Enhance security: One of the perks of centralizing operations and having remote access to your devices is the ability to deploy security updates to devices that would otherwise be unattended for long (and potentially critical) periods of time.
- Save time and resources: Even if this is already implicit in the previous points, device management platforms can also save you time and resources because of how easy to use, comprehensive and flexible they are.
Let’s look at these four picks to manage your devices, so you can accelerate time-to-market and reduce costs.
Device Management and IoT Application Enablement Platform: What is the difference?
For starters, the terminology between IoT players, different kinds of platforms and a multitude of players might be tricky… We’ve been there too.
IoT Application Enablement Platforms (AEP), like Ubidots, offer the necessary tools to develop and deploy an IoT solution ready to serve customers, and their end-users in any subset of verticals. This usually entails providing industry-agnostic technology to link devices to applications, as well as low code or drag-and-drop tools for users to build the applications themselves.
When it comes to specific device functionalities for embedded Linux (Raspberry Pis or WAGO PLCs, to name a few), performing activities such as device provisioning, code deployment, building containers or remote updates, would typically go beyond an Application Enablement Platform.
You’ll save time and resources using both platforms in tandem for your IoT deployments, but they’re grouped under different categories because of their specialization.
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Our four picks for 2024
We open our list with Balena, a company that offers a vast array of tools and services that, even if together work particularly well, are meant to be flexible enough for you to pick the ones that suit your needs the best.
At the center of their services is balenaCloud, a container-based platform from which you can deploy and manage your devices. It uses Docker container technology, making update deployments safe and non-disruptive. As for support, there’s no cause for concern either, since it works with 80 types of devices (including Raspberry Pi, Intel NUC, Nvidia Jetson, among others) and the language of your choice (Node.js, Python, Golang, etc.).
Going down from the cloud into the devices, you’ll come across balenaOS and balenaFin, products they’ve worked on based on their experience in this field. The first one is a minimal OS based on the open-source project Yocto, that is tailored to run containers on embedded devices. On the other hand, balenaFin is a board based on Raspberry Pi but hardened for field deployment.
Balena, in short, ticks all the boxes in this category by making device management simple and thorough, whether it’s exclusively with their tools or integrating them with others.
The first 10 devices you use with them are fully featured and free. Beyond that, plans vary depending on the number of devices, users that have access to the account, and the type of support offered. Plans range between 188 USD up to 1,439/month USD, with the option of crafting a custom plan for larger operations.
Pros: the Ubidots team has created some integrations and technical guides in case you want to check them out and enhance your Ubidots solutions with the Balena suite:
Amazon Web Services has a complete ecosystem of tools for IoT, which includes AWS IoT Device Management, a platform in which you can register, monitor, and manage your fleet of devices at scale. If you already use AWS IoT Core (cloud service) or your devices connect to a gateway with AWS Greengrass technology, you can use this management platform.
Registering devices in bulk only requires uploading templates that contain information like device manufacturer, serial number or security policies and then configuring the fleet with that information from the console.
It allows you to group your fleet according to your needs — whether it's based on function, location, or security requirements. Then, those groups can be the subject of specific actions that won't affect other groups.
When it comes to the management itself, with AWS IoT Device Management you can carry out actions like software and firmware updates, setting failure thresholds and device rebooting.
As with other AWS services, their policy for the AWS IoT Device Management is to charge based on what you use: the number of devices you register, and the number of remote actions done in a month.
With the acquisition of Upswift, JFrog offers this complete management platform that centers on the idea of making remote device monitoring and OTA software updates as seamless and easy as possible.
JFrog Connect is a platform that closes the distance between you and your edge devices by allowing you to group and arrange them as you see fit, giving you a panoramic view of their processes, resources, and data. It also offers easy control and access to the device to deliver updates or do troubleshooting.
Aside from scheduled updates, the software intervention you carry on can also be prompted by alerts given by the platform based on your configuration. Additionally, their software includes an agent service that will intervene in some cases: for example, if there’s a problem with an update the agent will roll back the deployment to the last working version automatically.
You can use JFrog Connect through one of their plans that range from 99 USD/month up to a custom plan, all of which vary according to the capacity and scale of your operation.
On the side of Microsoft, we find Azure IoT Hub, a platform to operate, maintain and update devices in a scalable manner. It provides an end-to-end update solution that enables customers to manage and deploy OTA updates.
They’ve set out to introduce a link in their Azure stack of IoT services that enables users to establish safe and reliable communications with their fleet. This is achieved by bringing the best of Windows Updates like scalability, reliability, and security into IoT. The ability to update devices, even in the absence of reliable connection, is enhanced by resilient download and on-network cache offering.
In terms of safety, it provides you with per-device security credentials and access control and the option to revoke access rights for specific devices. Also, the connection to networks or services is always overseen, as to avoid unsolicited or risky connections.
Their pricing depends on the number of IoT Hub units you use and the number of messages that are sent through each of those units a day, ranging from $10 to $2,500.
*Prices may change over time depending on each platform’s policies.
Frequently asked questions
- What is IoT Device Management for Embedded Linux?
It’s the process of linking edge devices with enough computing power to run Linux operating systems to the cloud, so that it’s possible to remotely monitor and intervene them.
- What are the benefits?
As already stated in the blogpost, there are four major benefits derived from using management platforms: focusing on your value proposition, centralizing operations, enhancing security, and saving time and resources.
Can you develop your own solution and manage a fleet of devices on your own? Maybe… But that’s exactly the point: why take the risk of things not working, distract your business from its product and pump valuable resources on something that’s already available?
- How much do these platforms cost?
Most of these platforms offer free trials, as well as pre-built plans that will vary mainly on the number of devices that can be connected. In this regard, AWS offers the most distinct model, charging based on what you use.