Unbrickable : Lessons from iOS 10 Launch for IoT Platform Choice

I am a huge fan of Apple’s products. This includes the lowly software update process, which is normally smooth and unnoticed. But when there is an upgrade tied to a major announcement, such as iOS 10, the lowly software update process becomes a minor hero. With a tangible software update comes demand, and demand drives potential for issues. The first hour of iOS 10 availability, problems arose, some resulting in the ‘bricking’ of iPhones.

This made me think of hundreds of thousands of connected devices from high-end cooking appliances to medical devices that we manage at Zentri. The crux of my post is not the iOS update glitch, but the amplification of this issue when IoT devices need to be updated. When you have a ‘headless’ product, such as a connected medical device fleet or a traffic camera system with embedded software, it needs to be upgraded at scale reliably.

Device Accessibility : IoT devices are not as accessible as your iPhone. They might be in wiring closets, inside trucks for asset management, or part of a valve system five feet below the ground. Once it is bricked, loss of connectivity combined with poor accessibility makes it an unusable product.

Headless IoT Devices : Most IoT devices we manage are ‘headless’ — i.e. there is no easy way to manage the device when there is no touchscreen or keyboard to configure, update or worse to run through debugging procedures. Managing these issue at scale is even harder if there is any manual remediation needed.

Business Impact : IoT devices that are bricked have a far worse impact than a bricked iPhone. If a valve controller or a surge protector is bricked, the damage it causes to the business is far deeper and wider.

For instance, if the loss of service per shipped product such as a connected HVAC is $100/hour, imagine the impact of 4 hours of loss of service for 100,000 devices at the premises of your customers (that’s $40 million if you are doing the math in your head). Throw in SLA and brand impact, as the GM of the business, you have more than a simple headache in your hands.

The solution to these issues is to make sure that there is a highly reliable and secure software update mechanism that starts at the embedded software on the product that is reliable and purpose-built for commercial IoT use cases that is atomically connected to a cloud service that manages the distribution of the software. This is not something you let product development engineers add on to an agent on the device. In addition, look for IoT platforms that come with simple setup & field service companion mobile app for the IoT device. This can save hundreds of hours in deployment and service — especially when you have situations where internet connectivity to the devices is scarce and direct connectivity is the only option available.

Ask your engineering and product teams to Sign up for one of the five free workshops offered at Maker Faire to use a combined Avnet, Zentri, and IBM IoT solution. Not going to be at Maker Faire NYC? A number of similar, but more in-depth, 1-day, hands-on workshops will be available at the end of Oct. and early Nov. Sign up here.

Zentri focuses on the critical utility value of managing a large fleet of industrial grade IoT products so they can be authenticated, authorized and updated without ever bricking the products. Now, let me go back to playing with shiny new iPhone 7 — Jet Black is indeed cooler than just black.

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