A Developer‘s Guide to Open Source IoT Platforms

Hi friend! I‘m excited to take you on a tour of the most popular open source IoT platforms for building connected solutions. By the end, you‘ll have a clear perspective on capabilities to determine which tools best align to your use case. Let‘s get started!

Growth of Enterprise IoT Adoption

First, some context! IDC predicts over 55 billion IoT devices will be deployed globally by 2025 – up from 30 billion in 2021. Spending on IoT infrastructure, hardware, software, and services will reach $1.5 trillion over the same period.

Two major factors contributing to mainstream IoT growth:

  1. Proliferation of low-cost, Linux-capable devices like Raspberry Pi and WiFi/BLE chipsets that decrease hardware prototyping barriers
  2. Maturation of managed cloud services like AWS IoT Core easing device connectivity, security, dashboards and remote management for enterprises new to IoT.

Gartner notes most organizations adopt a bimodal IoT approach [1]:

  1. Start with rapid low-code application development platforms requiring minimal coding
  2. Gradually enhance in-house skills to customize open source software which unlocks more flexibility

"Successful delivery of IoT solutions demands a comprehensive set of IoT Platform capabilities that enable technology, people and processes to work seamlessly across the entire IoT value chain.” – Danfoss

Let‘s now explore popular open source platforms providing such end-to-end capabilities…

Overview of Common IoT Architecture

Before diving into specifics, its useful to level-set on a reference IoT architecture with 3 tiers [2]:

Tier Responsibilities
Devices and Gateways Physical interfaces, sensors, network modules for data collection and control
IoT Platform Ingest, process and analyze device data streams then execute responses
Enterprise Integration Consolidate IoT data with business systems like CRM, ERP, predictive models

IoT Architecture spanning devices, platform, and integration tiers (Image Source: GeekFlare)

The IoT platform tier is our focus – covering areas like device connectivity, data pipelines, storage, analytics, dashboards, and automation. Integration with enterprise backends then drives actionable insights.

Each platform takes a unique approach balancing ease of use, scalability, security, hardware support and extensibility. Let‘s analyze popular open source options…

11 Open Source IoT Platforms Compared

Here is an overview of 11 leading open source IoT software platforms with key capabilities, integrations, and use cases:

Platform Description Protocols Tools Use Cases
Node-RED Visual wiring tool to connect hardware, APIs and online services MQTT, HTTP, WebSocket, TCP, UDP Flow-based programming, Browser IDE Home Automation, Network Monitoring, Chatbots
OpenRemote Device and asset management platform Modbus, BACNet Agent-based, Workflow engine, Dashboards Smart Buildings, Industry 4.0
Home Assistant Local home automation platform MQTT, Z-Wave, Zigbee Automations engine, Mobile apps Residential IoT, Voice Assistants
Losant Scalable cloud-based enterprise IoT platform MQTT, UDP, HTTP, LoRaWAN Real-time dashboards, Workflow automation Smart Energy, Connected Products
Flutter Wireless sensor platform WiFi, Bluetooth LE Mesh, LoRa Cloud data platform, Device management Condition Monitoring, Smart Spaces
BalenaCloud Linux device management and updates MQTT, HTTP, TCP, Bluetooth Container engine, Dashboards, VPN Digital Signage, Edge Computing
Zetta API-centric platform to build IoT servers HTTP, Websocket Scout language, JavaScript SDK Rapid prototyping
Thinger.io Cloud platform to connect and manage devices MQTT, HTTP, Websocket REST API, Dashboards Arduino/Raspberry Pi
Kaa IoT Enterprise-grade IoT middleware MQTT, CoAP, HTTP, Websocket SDKs, Dashboards, Analytics Transportation, Smart Cities
Sitewhere Industrial scale device data ingestion and analytics MQTT, HTTP, gRPC Microservices, Cloud/On-prem Manufacturing, Smart Energy
DeviceHive Open source M2M communication framework MQTT, HTTP REST OAuth2, protobuf, websockets Industrial IoT, Telemetry

Evaluation Criteria for Platform Selection

With so many options, focus on capabilities that best align with your priorities:

  • Development skills – Pick low-code visual tools like Node-RED if lacking coding expertise
  • Deployment model – Opt for local options like Home Assistant to avoid cloud costs
  • Hardware support – Leverage provider SDKs/libraries for your specific device types
  • Security needs – Verify protocols and encryption mechanisms meet compliance standards
  • Scalability expectations – Confirm benchmarks for bandwidth, data volumes fit anticipated growth
  • Budget – Some offer open source core with paid cloud hosting plans

Let‘s analyze popular options across these dimensions…

Hands-on With Example Platforms

I‘ll provide a deeper look at a few platforms with code snippets so you get a feel for their approach.

Node-RED

Node-RED stands out with over 225,000 community shared pre-packaged nodes to accelerate building data flows visually instead of coding.

For example, here is flow that reads temperature sensor data from an MQTT topic then logs readings to console:

[{"id":"dfb04b28.a4d978","type":"tab","label":"Flow 1","disabled":false,"info":""},{"id":"463e68a2.2d3c38","type":"mqtt-broker","name":"MQTT Broker","broker":"localhost","port":"1883","clientid":"","usetls":false,"compatmode":true,"keepalive":"60","cleansession":true,"willTopic":"","willQos":"0","willPayload":"","birthTopic":"","birthQos":"0","birthPayload":""},{"id":"11c0402c.ce0c64","type":"mqtt in","z":"dfb04b28.a4d978","name":"temp sensor","topic":"home/outside/temp","qos":"1","datatype":"auto","broker":"463e68a2.2d3c38","nl":false,"rap":true,"rh":0,"inputs":0,"x":240,"y":160,"wires":[["9ef31031.0276c"]]},{"id":"9ef31031.0276c","type":"debug","z":"dfb04b28.a4d978","name":"","active":true,"tosidebar":true,"console":false,"tostatus":false,"complete":"false","targetType":"full","x":450,"y":160,"wires":[]}]

Key nodes:

  • mqtt-broker: Connects to MQTT broker
  • mqtt in: Subscribes to sensor topic
  • debug: Logs messages to debug sidebar

Wiring together pre-packaged capabilities with 300+ core nodes makes Node-RED extremely versatile for home tinkering to enterprise integration!

Home Assistant

Home Assistant takes an automation first approach best suited for home monitoring and control. For example, this entry triggers a script if temperature exceeds a threshold:

automation:

  - alias: "Extreme temperature notification"
    trigger: 
     platform: numeric_state
     entity_id: sensor.outside_temp
     above: 90
    action:  
      service: script.notify
      entity_id: script.temperature_warning

script:

  temperature_warning:
    sequence:
      - service: notify.notify
        data:
          message: "Outside temperature exceeded threshold!"

Components:

  • automation: Event handler for sensor state
  • trigger: Checks if temp exceeds 90
  • action: Calls script to send notification
  • script: Contains reusable sequence of actions

Home Assistant emphasizes local control with 100+ integrations easily tailored for homes versus industrial deployments.

Other Platform Details

While we only scratched the surfaced of Node-RED and Home Assistant, I encourage poking around the other platforms to find the best fit! Each strikes a unique balance across dimensions like configuration style, backend dependencies, protocols, developer experience and use cases.

Architecting Secure Enterprise IoT Solutions

For large scale production deployments, properly architecting robust and secure IoT infrastructure is mandatory before rollout. Here are best practices to consider:

Segregated Networks – Isolate devices, edge, data ingestion, business logic, and presentation tiers onto separate network segments with firewall policies limiting traffic between zones

Data Protection – Encrypt data in transit and at rest considering methodologies like key hierarchies, hardware security modules, trusted platform modules and blockchain

Access Controls – Enforce authentication, authorization and auditing covering human and machine identities via protocols like OAuth 2.0, SAML, OIDC and XACML

Confidential Computing – Leverage trusted execution environments like Intel SGX for workloads requiring high data privacy

Infrastructure Management – Configuration automation tools like Ansible, Terraform and CI/CD pipelines shift security left while easing repeatable deployments

Backup and Recovery – Schedule regular backups with isolated storage and testing procedures to reduce downtime from outages

Compliance Audits – Continuously monitor controls and formally certify conformity with regulations like ISO 27001, NIST CSF, HIPAA based on risk assessment

Patch Management – Systematically patch vulnerabilities across hardware, firmware, OS, middleware, apps based on severity ratings from services monitoring CVE databases

While open source IoT platforms may not offer turnkey implementations for all these controls, their flexibility does enable programmatically bolting on required capabilities even if more hands-on.

Getting Started with Example Projects

No better way to wrap our minds around these concepts than getting hands dirty!

Here is quick guide to having initial success:

Learn Essentials — Start by gaining core competencies in areas like Linux, Python, containers, MQTT, REST APIs, dashboarding, cloud services etc. through online courses and documentation.

Start Small — Tackle narrowly scoped weekend projects with simple objectives like capturing temperature data from a sensor, visualizing readings, and sending SMS alerts on thresholds. Iteratively grow.

Set Milestones — Outline quarterly milestones to benchmark capabilities like supporting new wireless protocols, implementing over-the-air updates, launching multi-tenant dashboards, or enabling Voice assistants.

Building knowledge incrementally prevents getting overwhelmed. View each step as progress towards your vision for connected solutions delivering value!

Wrapping Up

We covered a lot of ground surveying popular open source IoT application platforms! While commercial cloud alternatives simplify aspects of deployment, open source provides ultimate customizability. Hopefully capabilities analyzed give perspective on optimal tools matching your priorities – for tinkering or delivering robust enterprise scale solutions.

Reach out with any questions arising on your IoT journey and I‘m happy to help however I can!