IoT Architecture

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By: Liubomyr Maievskyi, Solution Engineer
20 Feb. 2023
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The Internet of things (IoT) has become an integral part of our lives in just a few years. And there is a future of different industries development behind this abbreviation. IoT solutions are ubiquitous. They have easily captured all areas of our routine, from household appliances to industrial enterprises and power stations. The technology is expected to add $5.5 trillion to $12.6 trillion of value to the global economy by 2030.

IoT systems have multiple possibilities, but their success depends on the well-coordinated work of connected devices. This is where IoT architecture enters the picture. This framework is essential. It’s a heart and a core that offers automation and convenience. With all its layers, systems, and gadgets, it orders all parts and creates the final IoT structure.

Promising IoT projects require efficient and well-defined IoT architecture. That’s why it’s important to know the components that form it. In this article, we’ll discuss the architecture of IoT from layer to layer. We will also talk about the challenges and future prospects of this field. Read further to learn what makes this technology the thing of the future.

What is IoT Architecture?

Complex IoT technology includes multiple elements communicating and collecting data without human interaction. And this network of connected gadgets requires a framework that defines how to order these moving parts and accommodate them in the long run. An invisible architectural system includes a four-step process that stands between your team and its tasks. First, it gathers raw data from many network devices connected to sensors, then sends it to data centers and servers for further analysis and storage. Thanks to it, you can effectively secure, support, and control your IoT systems.

Layers of IoT Architecture

There is no universal IoT architecture and no standardized protocols for it. However, some of its blocks are similar from project to project. Depending on the complexity, IoT infrastructure elements are grouped into 3 to 7 layers.

A basic IoT architecture consists of four layers: the perception layer, also known as the device layer, the transport layer, the processing layer, and the application layer. They allow administrators to evaluate, monitor, and maintain the system’s integrity. Let’s talk in more detail about each of them.

The Sensory. Perception Layer

As it stays in contact with real-world objects, IoT specialists also call it the physical layer. It consists of sensors, actuators, and end-point devices, that collect data from the physical environment. And then, collected data goes to digital applications for further analysis.

Based on the goals of the organization, the perception layer can include the following IoT devices:

  • different sensors like gyro meters, speed sensors, chemical sensors, radio-frequency identification sensors, and others;
  • actuators;
  • heating systems and thermostats;
  • robotics;
  • door access and security systems;
  • autonomous vehicles, etc.

A simple example of a sensing layer in healthcare is IoT devices that collect data from patients remotely. Such monitoring gadgets are designed to send real-time information on body temperature, blood pressure, or heart rate. And it keeps hospital staff informed about patients’ health while performing other tasks.

The Network Layer

The transport layer transmits data from multiple IoT devices to an on-premise or cloud data center. Being responsible for converting physical data into digital one, the network layer acts as a bridge, connecting physical and processing stages. In addition, this phase performs load management to avoid delayed response and extra energy consumption.

The transport layer also ensures the security of IoT data received from the physical stage. The essential parts of it are internet and network gateways, intranet ports, and data acquisition systems (DAS). Below is the list of different technologies that may be involved in this stage:

  • Wi-Fi;
  • Cellular 4G LTE/ 5G;
  • Bluetooth;
  • Near-Field Communication (NFC);
  • Wide Area Networks (WAN).

System admins can design their IoT architecture with a mix of transport protocols. Below are some of the most diverse and widely used:

  • Message Queue Telemetry Transport (MQTT);
  • Modbus;
  • Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP) ;
  • Process Field Network (PROFINET);
  • Controller Area Network (CAN) bus;
  • Ethernet for Control Automation Technology (EtherCAT);
  • Data Distribution Service (DDS);
  • Constrained Application Protocol (CoAP).

And the main thing is that the transport protocol must provide reliable data transmission from the sensor to the closest internet gateway.

Data Processing Layer

This is the brain and the fundamental component of the entire IoT ecosystem. The processing layer analyzes input data to generate new insights, valuable predictions, and warnings. In addition to data analysis, this stage also includes preprocessing and storage before valuable information is sent to the data center.

The middleware layer contains artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and edge computing. It is responsible for the decision-making tasks. But administrators can reverse decisions in the next stage, which is essential for human control.

Let’s take a look at the middleware layer in our following example. After an IoT sensor records temperature fluctuations, AI alerts to this anomaly by monitoring the real-time temperature and comparing it to the norm. Then the server sends a command to an HVAC unit to lower the temperature and fix the problem.

Application Layer

As we see, the previous stages don’t require human input. But the application layer is impossible without it, as user interaction occurs here. Administrators or end users manage IoT device orchestration and decision-making processes. Establishing service measures and rule sets takes place here. Ultimately, they aid in the improvement of systems and their elements.

The application layer is necessary for device control and management of IoT networks from a centralized dashboard. For instance, the control panel will be put on a computer monitor in industrial setups to observe all the systems. Using it, administrators can pause, stop or restart devices in the systems. Such centralization reduces complexity and improves efficiency and security.

A typical example of the application layer of IoT architecture is a smart home application where users can check the status of the devices in a system and manage them. But it could also be different applications for manufacturing, smart farming, smart cities, healthcare, fleet management, etc.

Business Layer

Finally, we move to the business layer, where data collected from the application layer is transformed into actionable insights. This stage typically relies on live dashboards, charts, graphs, and reports, which CTOs and business managers use for decision-making. Business intelligence apps, enterprise resource planners, and data visualization applications are widely used here.

Executives and stakeholders analyze and evaluate the potential of the Internet of things (IoT) systems on the business layer. They also create forecasts based on current production capacity and future needs in the industry.

Security Layer

System security is one of the most important requirements for an IoT architecture and one of its main challenges simultaneously. Below are three key aspects that the security layer includes.

  1. Equipment security. It’s focused on IoT devices and their protection from hijacks and malware.
  2. Cloud security. As most data is being processed at this stage, cloud security is crucial to prevent leaks.

Connection Security. It is responsible for securing data transmitted across IoT networks. And the transport layer security protocol is a must-have to protect IoT connections.

Stages of IoT Architecture

After discussing different layers of IoT architecture, it’s time to talk about maximizing its value. The thing is that the data from connected devices is fragmented and isolated. And these siloed insights themselves aren’t enough to justify an IoT strategy and significant investments. Devices must interact freely and maximize system synergy to capitalize on the Internet of things (IoT). You, in short, need to ensure your infrastructure supports the IoT architecture.

The entire IoT architecture consists of four stages. And each plays a crucial role in transferring and translating unstructured data. So, for successful IoT implementation, you need to understand the stages of the system.

IoT Devices: Sensors and Actuators

The perception layer is the first in line to establish within the environment, as an IoT system is nothing without connected objects. Talking about smart devices, we mean wireless sensors and actuators in the physical layer. They collect and process data from the environment to make it usable for further analysis.

Below are examples of connected objects used today in different industries.

  • IoT sensors: temperature sensors, GPS sensors, light sensors, humidity sensors, proximity sensors, and others.
  • Actuators: electric actuators, magnetic actuators, pneumatic actuators, thermal actuators, hydraulic actuators, and more.

All these multiple devices require Local and Personal Area Networks for successful data aggregation and sending to a data acquisition center through an internet gateway protocol.

Internet Gateway Stage

The next step is to set up internet gateways. Since parameters from the physical layer are collected in analog form, it is necessary to convert them into digital data. And this task is for a data acquisition system. It doesn’t only convert but also facilitates aggregation and data analysis, protecting against unauthorized access.

Edge IT System

The third stage of an IoT architecture provides preprocessing and pre-analytics for physical data transferring into a digital one. As a result, the post-processed size of digital data is enormous. And this is where an edge IT system comes in.

All digital data stays close to the IoT sensors and actuators to improve overall performance. It is necessary to meet consequent bandwidth requirements. Moreover, administrators do not need all the data collected by actual devices. So, AI and ML algorithms process and keep only actionable data.

Data Centers and Cloud Storage

After data processing and filtration, it goes to the data centers and servers for final analysis and reporting. Cloud platforms are a cost-efficient approach, allowing to reduce in equipment costs. But all processed data can be vulnerable to cyberattacks at the same time. And as for physical servers or data centers, they are safer but cost more.

IoT Architecture Requirements

Performance. The nonfunctional IoT architecture requirements list includes acceptable response time and bidirectional communication. Your IoT system must be compatible with unstructured and structured data. And platform deployment should be appropriate to a cloud.

Security. Unauthorized devices pose a threat to the internal safety of IoT architecture. All objects should be registered and safely interact with other devices. Users should have secure access and exchange data with security controls.

Availability. IoT system is required to be accessible 24/7. This is a crucial necessity for some industries like healthcare.

Maintainability. Pay attention to the IoT system and its devices’ adaptation. IoT architecture must be flexible to adapt quickly to users, processes, and data changes. Be sure that you perform maintenance without delaying the service level agreements.

IoT Architecture Benefits

Different sectors like agriculture, manufacturing, and healthcare have already implemented the Internet of things IoT in their enterprises. And the number of industries that benefit from IoT architecture is really high. These are common advantages of the adoption for various businesses.

First, IoT solutions enable the provision of better consumer-oriented services. A wireless network of smart devices and sensors enables equipment to operate without human input and according to consumers’ expectations. With advanced data analytics, enterprises get new business opportunities. They can develop different strategies and models to increase revenue.

Managers delegate repetitive tasks to machine learning tools to make production flow consistent, continuous, and faster. The human factor and related errors are excluded, which improves productivity.

Summing Up

As we have seen, IoT architectures play a key role in several major industries worldwide. It is full of opportunities and stays open to further developments. Additionally, evolutionary progress awaits IoT, and the data process, along with system deployment, will become faster than ever.

Shortly, enterprises can completely eliminate the lack of interoperability, unavailability of bandwidth during peak hours, and other issues. And as for industries, IoT architectures are expected to go beyond the usual framework and be implemented in different sectors yet to be explored.

And today, you can create solutions for your enterprise with detailed knowledge of IoT architecture. This will allow you to enhance existing marketing or business strategies and improve your products and services.

By: Liubomyr Maievskyi, Solution Engineer
20 Feb. 2023
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