As IoT Architectures Evolve, IoT Gateways Live on — but for How Long?
Are IoT gateways still important?
IoT gateways have been fundamental elements of both consumer and industrial IoT architectures for many years, and arguably the most essential architectural components, serving as bridges between different networks that allow IoT-generated data to travel to the cloud.
But as IoT use cases and applications for different industries have evolved, especially over the past three or four years, architectural requirements also have changed. The definition of what constitutes an IoT gateway, and the role that device plays in broader IoT architectures, has become blurry as enterprises look to leverage IoT.
An IoT gateway at its most basic level is a “device that connects things on the LAN, whether those are IoT sensors or other devices, to things on the WAN, and just sort of aggregates that traffic and passes it along,” said Ken Hosac, vice president of IoT strategy and business development at Cradlepoint.
While there are still gateway devices that play that role in some architectures today, a variety of factors — demand for greater computing power at the edge, growing security concerns, evolving IoT customer needs and an overall acceptance that IT and OT worlds are converging — have sparked an evolution beyond those gateway-centric IoT architectures.
“Overall, I would say an IoT gateway in 2015 or 2016, and an IoT gateway today are the same,” said Tripp Partain, chief technology officer of converged servers, edge and IoT systems at HPE. “A gateway really is what the term suggests — it creates a way for you to get from one place to another. The difference is, in 2015, all you had was the IoT gateway, whereas, in 2019, you have many other devices that can drive IoT outcomes, but don’t do it the same way that an IoT gateway does.”
Historically, IoT gateways had power, memory storage and functionality similar to PCs, but in ruggedized shells that allowed them to be used, Partain said, as a “bridging element that could connect the OT things in a factory or industrial setting, grab information from machinery, controls or other elements in the OT setting, and pipe that into the IT world or data center or cloud where the technology standards exist to do the magical IoT reporting and analytics that can’t happen in that OT setting.”
Some IoT gateways still do essentially the same thing today, and they are most likely to be found in the IoT architectures where an enterprise uses hosted cloud or data center services to analyze and store their IoT-generated data, Partain said. For providers of these services, traditional IoT gateways remain important. “If I’m one of those companies, I’m just trying to get the data and send it up into my cloud where I can make something magical happen to solve a problem for the customer that was not being solved before. (Having a traditional IoT gateway) is good for their business. It’s how they bridge information from the OT to the IT world where they make their money.”