posted: June 21, 2023 

How to solve IoT Device Management Challenges?

How to solve IoT Device Management Challenges?

As the number of connected devices continues to grow, the need for efficient IoT device management becomes ever more crucial.

Complexity grows with the number of devices. Efficiently monitoring performance, diagnosing and reacting quickly to issues is just the beginning. Updating firmware in bulk, avoiding security incidents, ensuring compatibility between different devices and protocols, and optimizing costs all of it gets more complicated when scaling up.

The million-dollar question, then, is can you make IoT device management easier? The answer is just as valuable: Yes, you can. In this article we’ll take you through real-life examples of what can happen and how you can avoid such scenarios.

Why is IoT device management getting complex over time?

At the start of IoT product development, developers tend to focus on building connected devices and gathering sensor data while downplaying the device management capabilities. The risk they run is in not realizing the complexity they will confront when scaling their project in the future.

Not considering device management and security at the start may result in the need to rewrite much of your application code somewhere down the line.

What should the product development process look like, then? Here’s a visualization illustrating the possible flow.

The majority of IoT device management features are addressed by the LwM2M standard created by the OMA SpecWorks. LwM2M is an open standard specifically designed for constrained devices to make IoT device management easy, more efficient, and highly scalable.

Unlike MQTT, CoAP, or HTTP, which require management capabilities to be built from scratch, LwM2M comes with standardized device-management features. This helps developers save time on developing custom functionalities and focus on building the core functionality of their IoT application. Moreover, the standardized LwM2M features, its logic of operations guarantee the interoperability you need for scaling up.

Below, we walk you through the key opportunities this open protocol can provide, and describe how it can help you avoid serious problems when scaling up your project.

1# Achieving Scalability

Imagine you’ve gone through the prototyping and first deployment phases and you are about to scale up to thousands of devices. More devices means more issues and the need to control them. What surprises can you expect? And how can LwM2M help you?

  • Diversity of devices - Devices from different manufacturers will vary by the hardware and communication protocols they provide. Such diversity leads to complex updates and device management at scale. It also exposes companies to vendor lock-in and the lack of interoperability. 

    The open LwM2M protocol enables the standardization of data and operations. It ensures the unified data model for all devices that makes them interoperable, easy to update and simple to manage.

  • Network overload - Adding devices means moving larger amounts of data over the network. This may result in slow data transfers, data loss, or network downtime. 

    With LwM2M, this challenge can be handled with UDP (User Datagram Protocol), a lightweight and highly efficient protocol. UDP enables continuous data transmission without a connection handshake or acknowledgement that data has been delivered. This results in efficient data transport over constrained IoT networks.

  • Complex IoT device management - With more devices to manage, you need to update firmware over the air, detect and diagnose problems for different types of devices, and maintain security as well. 

    The LwM2M-based IoT Device Management platform provides a single centralized hub to manage all types of devices, push single and group FOTA updates, easily monitor devices with structured data, and keep an eye on security.

  • Devices located in remote locations - In large-scale deployments, IoT devices will be located in hard-to-reach and network-challenging locations. Sending people to resolve issues will be complicated and costly. 

    This is why remotely managing IoT devices with the LwM2M protocol is so valuable. You can remotely configure, update and control devices from the comfort of your office. It makes scalability realistic, even for such corner cases.

2# Securing devices at scale

A larger network of connected devices creates more opportunities for hackers to exploit the vulnerabilities of poorly secured areas. You should take into account all possible costs such as regulatory fines, legal costs, and loss of revenue due to business disruption.

Consider two possible scenarios:

  • Unsecured devices - without regular security updates, your connected devices are prone to attack. Lack of awareness is a leading reason companies fail to update regularly. The fact that updates can be complicated and devices often have compatibility issues are also factors.

    To make pushing security patches to devices easier, LwM2M offers a standardized update process for various types of devices. The standard also enables secure key distribution and management. This ensures each device has its unique identity and cryptographic key to reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

    Once the standard is implemented, managing security is limited to uploading files and choosing the devices to receive them.

  • Insecure communications channel - if the devices’ communications channel are not properly secured, attackers can easily take control of the devices.

    The LwM2M standard is on the case by enabling secure communication between device and server with device-authenticated (mutual) Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS ) protocol or TLS (Transport Layer Security) when using TCP.

    This, in turn, ensures end-to-end transport security as the communication happens over a secure communication channel. With all data sent over the channel encrypted, data cannot be spoofed or tampered with during device registration, FOTA updates or data collection.

These security challenges are ubiquitous in IoT projects. According to an IoT Analytics report, “Overview of the IoT security market 2017-2022”, 32% of respondents pointed to authentication/authorization issues as among the most pressing, while access control and data encryption were also seen to be of critical importance. This is why LwM2M’s standardization of these issues is so crucial. You receive a full set of security features that can speed up its implementation and give your devices a fortress of security.

3# Enabling interoperability

Many of the IoT solutions now in use are proprietary and only function in certain hardware or infrastructure environments. Examples include protocols connected to a single third-party controlled backend. This means that different devices may use different protocols when communicating, causing IoT interoperability issues. In consequence, you experience a raft of problems:

  • Heterogeneous devices and a lack of standardized data formats in an IoT network - when devices differ from each other in terms of software, hardware and communications protocols, managing it all becomes highly complex. Each device may require a unique configuration, monitoring and maintenance process from different interfaces. It’s also difficult to monitor the status of all devices or their operations, at least if you lack a single data format.

    To avoid these complications, the LwM2M protocol offers cross-vendor and cross-platform interoperability. It utilizes OMA (Open Mobile Alliance) LwM2M Objects and provides a standardized approach for representing and managing device functionalities and data.

    LwM2M-based Coiote IoT Device Management Platform using OMA objects.

    The OMA registry encompasses thousands of objects covering most device management and sensor data use cases. With such far-reaching standardization, LwM2M establishes a foundation for interoperability by providing a standardized framework for device communication. This enables devices from different manufacturers to communicate effectively using a common language and messaging format.

  • Different security standards - Using a variety of IoT devices means dealing with a variety of security implementations. Ensuring that all of them are in force is a highly complex task, even with professionals leading the way. The current reality is that a vast number of IoT devices are manufactured without attention to existing security standards, with weak passwords and credentials handled improperly.

    LwM2M allows you to implement the same security standards for all devices covering secure bootstrapping, device authentication, and data encryption.

4# Avoiding high costs

IoT deployment and maintenance costs are hard to predict in the long term as many variables impact them.

To help you understand how costs could skyrocket, consider the list we have put together below. It also tells you how the LwM2M protocol and other solutions may help you keep costs down.

  • Development costs

    Compatibility issues are fairly common when building IoT devices. They often keep developers on the job overtime, while the most serious cases require external experts to manage these integration difficulties.

    The biggest problem comes from the need to integrate device sensors with a hardware platform, communication protocol stack, SIM card & cellular network and cloud services. There are many knobs to turn and you need to have a range of skills to do it correctly.

    A common IoT development problem involves underestimating project complexity, which only grows over time. To see how, consider two hardware developers engaged in building IoT devices.

  1. 1. The first developer builds an IoT product and initially focuses on the core application, ignoring all security features, firmware updates and device management functionalities. After the Proof of Concept has been completed, secure encryption, authentication and authorization are added to the application code. Then, the firmware updates features, and after a while the firmware has to be updated to enable advanced device management capabilities. In the end, the developer has spent a lot of time building and implementing functionalities which are not part of his core application.
  2. 2. The other hardware developer has decided to use the LwM2M protocol. It takes him some time to learn the standard and select the LwM2M SDK. Once he has done that, all security, FOTA and device management capabilities are already implemented and he is free to work on the core functionalities. This may slow things down initially, but it ultimately saves a lot of time as the application is designed for scale.

In conclusion, selecting the appropriate approach for IoT development is of utmost importance to avoid escalating costs as the project scales. By choosing a standardized approach you can significantly reduce time and effort required for development.

  • Network usage

    Data transmission costs for connectivity services may skyrocket if you don’t minimize network traffic.

    For example, MQTT over TCP uses more data than LwM2M over CoAP over UDP. Assuming that you use MQTT, you have to purchase higher data transfer options from a cellular connectivity provider. If you send more data, the device's radio is turned on for a longer period of time. Since radio causes your device to consume huge amounts of energy, you may run out of battery quicker or need to install a larger battery – and cough up the money to do so. Why incur that expense if it can be avoided?

  • Cloud services

    In general, services like AWS IoT Core, Azure IoT Hub and Azure IoT Central make your life easier, because they enable you to quickly build a data processing pipeline in the cloud, but their costs scale linearly. If there are just a few devices involved, they’re affordable, but once the deployment grows costs can skyrocket and we have heard about IoT solutions landing in the red due to such upscaling.

    Moreover, recent decisions among the big-three cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft also show that if their financial results are not great, their IoT services can be shut down quickly. This is why it is worth considering using an open standard, allowing you to easily migrate to other vendors.

  • Maintenance costs

    Sending maintenance technicians to the field to keep IoT devices running can prove costly if changes must be handled manually. Any service downtime is expensive. Imagine you need to dispatch an employee to manually restore a device’s operations after a faulty firmware upgrade. Now imagine the failure applies to thousands of devices, and the man-hours and money you’d need to throw at the fix. This is a serious challenge when you have a large amount of equipment spread across large territories.

    You need to count professional wages, transport and new devices costs, as well as lost opportunities resulting from abandoned jobs to run reactive maintenance.

    Remote IoT device management the LwM2M standard makes possible, including device configuration and out-of-the-box firmware updates, largely resolves this issue.

    For some critical devices, alerts can be set to inform you about low battery levels, disconnection, communication issues and a raft of others. This will help you introduce proactive maintenance management and, for those with a large fleet of devices, save thousands of dollars.

Conclusions and recommendations

The biggest mistake companies make with IoT device management challenges is failing to think about device management at the start of their development process.

If your ambition is to deploy thousands of devices, consider planning your IoT architecture to be scalable from the start. Investing additional resources in the early development stages to implement device management will save you money, minimize security breaches and reduce interoperability issues down the line.

Want more tips and best practices about LwM2M protocol and IoT device management? Subscribe to our IoT newsletter here.



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