Iot Device Management: Understanding the IoT Lifecycle and Its Stages
Companies often expect their enterprise IoT systems to last for years. However, there is often a chance that devices will not perform as you plan if they are not managed properly. Thus companies need to think ahead about the effective IoT device management strategy as a way to prolong the lifetime of their devices. We have put together this article to help you better understand what exactly the IoT device management is about, what the IoT lifecycle is,and what stages it includes.
Defining the IoT lifecycle and IoT device management
IoT devices form a connected system that provides critical applications with real-time data. Hence, you’d want these devices to perform as intended and be securely safeguarded from external and internal threats. As well, it is important that an operator can access a device remotely at any needed time in case a need arises. This is what IoT device management is about - it’s about managing and maintaining the functionality of an IoT system.
As for the IoT device lifecycle, it is a set of stages that IoT devices go through from their conception and design to the end of life. And since IoT device management is applicable to every stage of the IoT device lifecycle, we will look at the best practices and expected measures through the lens of this lifecycle.
We can define three main stages of an IoT device lifecycle. They are:
- Beginning of Life (BoL): devices are pre-configured and set up. At this stage devices still have their default schemas (i.e. default passwords).
- Middle of Life (MoL): the product configuration, design, and production quality are modified with updates. During this stage, the focus lies mainly on improving the reliability, availability, and maintainability of devices.
- End of Life (EoL): devices are easily and safely removed if they are broken or replaced if it is no longer worth the resources to maintain them.
Note that the lifecycle of each IoT device can vary from project to project, as the device lifecycle is highly dependent on the specific use case. Nevertheless, we can identify four basic elements of each IoT device lifecycle:
- Provisioning: the process of preparing and equipping a device network.
- Configuration: the process of customizing the IoT device functionality.
- Maintenance: the process of maintaining the visibility of the device deployment in order to timely react to any issues and fix them.
- Decommissioning: the process of putting devices out of service or shutting them down.
The transition processes from one stage to the next are just as important as each stage individually. The reason for that is that a clear structure creates a comprehensive IoT device management and improves the overall project coordination. And now let's take a closer look at all three phases of the IoT device lifecycle.
Beginning of Life: an overview and best practices
The beginning of life (BoL) is the first stage of the IoT device lifecycle that involves product, process, and installation design. Whether you design your own IoT devices or buy off-the-shelf ones, you need to properly incorporate them into production and support the BoL phase with the following steps:
- Connection and authentication;
- Configuration and remote management;
- Coordination of the device production.
At the beginning of the BoL phase, devices remain physically intact, meaning, they still have their default configurations. Hence, this stage also involves the set-up and customization of devices in order to fully prepare them for deployment. And now, let’s take a look at the BoL best practices in detail.
Secure connection and device authentication
In order to connect to the network, devices must be authenticated first. Authentication allows companies to safeguard their networks by allowing only authenticated users or processes to access protected resources.
When talking about IoT device authentication, it is the process of registering valid device credentials. Typically, each IoT device is assigned an identifier that allows to track this device throughout its lifecycle, ensuring secure interaction and preventing malicious processes. In addition, IoT devices are also assigned a certificate with unique data (i.e. a serial number or a model number).
Proper device configuration
The authentication of new devices is followed by the process of their configuration in order for devices to correspond to your specific needs. As devices and networks almost always need further configuration beyond the initial provisioning phase, it is important to be able to configure devices efficiently, securely, and remotely. Examples of configuration include adding complexity to a device, optimizing its functions with additional code, or changing the settings to meet new requirements.
Also keep in mind that you’ll need to outline an efficient configuration management strategy since your system will most probably expand and grow in complexity. As more IoT devices become available and networks receive more and more data, configuration management becomes essential in order to timely apply needed configurations and facilitate the operation of devices. Also note that configuration changes can occur many times during a device's lifetime so it’s not an “applied once - forever stays this way” process.
Iot device management setup
Once installed and configured, all devices must be properly controlled. The control of different devices will depend on their specific type (i.e. small microcontrollers, powerful microcontrollers, gateways, mobile devices as a gateway, or 5G edge nodes). As well, modern IoT devices vary in capabilities and connectivity, so the selected IoT solution must support different types of target platforms.
The device management phase involves establishing links to collect device data, introducing basic configuration procedures, and providing device- or group-specific properties according to the individual needs of a specific project. From this point on, the devices should be under your full remote control.
IoT devices come with a wide range of protocols, settings, and network connectivity options. To shield applications from so many access options, security agents are used. These agents collect data from IoT devices and perform actions to secure these devices and immediately detect vulnerabilities. The configuration of a security agent can be controlled by a configurable set of module twin properties. For example, by configuring certain properties, it is possible to automatically exclude certain events or maintain a minimum level of power consumption.
Middle of Life: an overview and best practices
Middle of life (MoL) is a stage at which devices are distributed, used, and maintained (repaired and serviced) by either a company itself or a service provider. Device history related to distribution paths, conditions of use, failures, and maintenance can be collected to create a comprehensive product status report.
The MoL stage usually includes:
- Technical maintenance of devices;
- Upgrade and maintenance of software;
- Monitoring and diagnostics of devices.
Middle of life is where IoT devices spend most of their time. Once an IoT device is deployed, it must perform as intended and the corresponding processes and procedures must be in place for this.
Upgrading, patching, and troubleshooting
Updates are an important part of the IoT device management process. By timely and regularly updating your IoT devices, you can avoid or mitigate cyber threats and troubleshoot the majority of issues related to cyber security. Scheduled or ad hoc updates are one of the most common types of updates to apply during the MoL stage. Both these updates can significantly improve the continued functioning of the devices.
It is also important to consider maintenance, which is one of the top priorities during the MoL phase. Without proper maintenance, devices fail early or cause network failures, which in turn results in extra costs. Hence, constant monitoring of your system, regular checks, and timely fixes can significantly prolong the lifecycle of the devices.
Once devices are authenticated, configured, installed, and connected to the network, it is necessary to monitor them. One of the most efficient ways to do so is via a specialized software.
With IoT monitoring, companies can analyze dynamic systems and handle billions of events and alerts seamlessly. Such monitoring systems also help address performance gaps by optimizing multiple applications, APIs, networks, and protocols to maximize the future capabilities of IoT devices.
End of Life: an overview and best practices
End of Life (EoL) is a stage at which products are decommissioned - meaning they are returned to the company for recycling (disassembly, re-production) or disposal. While it sounds easy at first, you cannot just take an IoT device and unplug it - things are a bit more complicated:
- Track the end-of-life status for any critical product component that cannot be easily replaced or substituted;
- Research and develop different decommissioning options to find the most suitable one;
- Collect feedback and make improvements to the lifecycle management process.
When an IoT project comes to an end, you have to consider what will happen to the devices after the project ends or when a device reaches the end of its lifecycle. The reasons for retiring a device can be varied: complete replacement because the device does not meet expectations or simply the end of its life. However, the main reasons for retirement are partial or complete damage due to irreparable failures or age.
If the device is completely retired, it should be taken out of service by removing the authentication checks. The procedure should be quick and should not interfere with the operation of the network. If the device needs to be replaced, the system environment should facilitate and support the deployment of the new device. Also remember that the decommissioning processes must be secure in order to protect the network from data leakage and malicious attacks.
While the device lifecycle concept seems like a learned area, some businesses are still struggling with device uptime issues. Therefore, it is critical to master the key IoT device integration management skills in order to minimize possible risks as much as possible. And most importantly, proper IoT device management will help you adapt to any future changes with maximal business benefit.
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