To be locked in or not to be locked in. That is the question facing many IoT project owners when it comes to the technology stack. But there is a smart way of solving the problem.
If you listen to a major technology company while you are selecting your IoT vendor list, the chances are you will hear a familiar argument. “We can deliver a vertically integrated, end-to-end solution,” they will tell you. “With us, you’ll have one point of contact, one throat to choke.”
This reasoning, honed across countless IT project bids, admittedly makes some sense.
By sticking with a single vendor, you can theoretically reduce the complexity of your setup and potentially benefit from bundle discounts, fewer integration issues and faster deployment times.
At the same time, though, relying on a single vendor for your entire IoT technology stack could be risky if things don’t work out. Instead of swapping out one component, you may have to change the entire stack. Plus, there are other drawbacks.
The reason automation vendors, cloud providers, enterprise resource planning system suppliers, hardware manufacturers, and others push their vertically integrated offerings is, of course, to lock you into their products.
Leadership in the entire technology stack?
That is fine as long as their products are all among the best on the market. But in IoT, where much innovation is still being carried out by small, specialist vendors, it is hard for any large organization to truly claim leadership right up and down the technology stack.
And even if such an organization existed, once you bought into their integrated offering you would have to trust they maintained their leadership at all levels, since it would be harder to integrate another vendor’s technology into your stack.
On the flip side, though, if you opt for a mix of vendors then you increase the complexity of your project, and likely will have to face more challenging and longer-lasting integration issues.
Is there any way you can enjoy the benefits of standardization, without the lock-in threat of a vertically integrated setup? The answer is yes. The secret is to standardize horizontally across your technology stack, rather than vertically.
The IoT technology stack has five layers: hardware, communications, edge computing, cloud services, and applications. Having a single vendor in any one of these stacks can allow you to profit from standardization yet make it easier to change to a different supplier if things don’t work out.
The secret to standardization and flexibility
All you need is to make sure that each stack is fully interoperable with the technologies above and below it. This shouldn’t be hard, since it is in the vendor’s interest to make components or software that can work with as wide a range of third-party products as possible.
Take edge computing software, for example. This is the glue between programmable logic controllers (PLCs) or operational technology-based hardware and your IoT platforms in the cloud or data center.
By selecting best-of-breed edge computing software, you maximize your ability to support a wide range of PLC-based and operational technologies, hardware, and IoT and cloud platforms. This cuts your cost, because you can choose more cost-effective technologies where possible, and reduces your risk of lock-in since you can exchange one technology for another without affecting the rest of the stack.
Edge computing solutions with full IoT platform feature sets can allow you to go even further in terms of flexibility and cost-effectiveness.
How to further reduce the risk of vendor lock-in
For example, you could bypass the IoT hubs and streaming analytics functionality you might otherwise have to pay for in the cloud, and simply use cloud-based assets for data storage and historic analytics. This further reduces the risk of lock-in.
The value of choosing best-of-breed components for each layer of your stack applies even across two or three layers. Some hardware vendors, for instance, bundle edge software with their appliances in order to create partial lock-in.
But, as with full-stack integrations, if you buy a hardware and edge software bundle you can never be sure that you will not want to try another hardware or software vendor in the future.
Only by choosing independent edge computing software can you be sure of full freedom to change vendors in the other layers of your technology stack, maximizing your freedom, keeping your costs down, and strengthening your hand in negotiations.