Going from 100 to 100,000 devices: The challenges of IoT scaling

SAP Digital Interconnect’s Kris Hayes, vice president, head of sales – Americas, and Rob Heuer, director, strategic accounts, discuss how best to approach scaling your IoT solution

For most intelligent enterprises, their journey into the Internet of Things (IoT) starts the same way it would for any other project: with a proof of concept. A small-scale deployment that allows an organization to gather real-world data, evaluate and identify any changes, and scale up from there. It’s just good sense.

Once a proof of concept has proved viable, that process of scaling is typically very rapid for IoT solutions. As the organization jumps from perhaps 100 to potentially thousands of devices or more, that puts them in a whole different world of complexity, with many extra considerations that can make or break a project.

For example, can the chosen provider support the number and types of SIMs and infrastructure at the required scale? And if the proof of concept process requires roaming, security, or connectivity changes that must be made, can the selected provider accommodate those requirements as well? These are conversations worth having up front, to avoid the potential for major problems down the line.

The geography problem

When scaling an IoT solution, it’s likely that not only will the number of devices increase, but the geographic scope expands as well – and this brings problems with coverage. Deploying internationally or even regionally, will likely require relationships with multiple mobile network operators, connections, and contracts, all things that cost time and money.

One solution is to produce multiple versions of a device, aligned with local carrier connectivity requirements in the region in which theyre deployed. That might be manageable in small-scale deployments, but as the device and carrier numbers multiply – it’s simply not a scalable solution.

Many leaders believe that the better answer is to build a single device that supports ubiquitous coverage, using SIMs that work globally with a multitude of carriers. This way, you can deploy the same device almost anywhere without being subject to local rate changes or roaming charges – factors that can significantly inflate the cost of an IoT project.

Are you ready to scale up?

The entire point of doing a proof of concept is that it allows you to learn in a relatively safe environment. But just because your IoT solution works in a test environment, that doesn’t mean it will scale up smoothly. And if you only realize this after the proof of concept period, often the only option is to rip-and-replace the entire troublesome layer of the solution.

The best solution is to choose the right partner from the outset. This can be a challenge in itself, but there are a few questions to help with this process. Does the provider have the elasticity to accommodate rapid scaling? And how does the cost scale along with that? Is it linear, or could you be facing an entirely different price structure once volumes increase?

As with most strategic decisions, making the wrong choice could be costly and create serious challenges down the line. However, the right partner with direct operator connections and relationships, a secure global digital communications network, and a simplified, scalable IoT solution can improve the chances of a successful launch.

To learn more about IoT scalability and other connectivity challenges, read “Connectivity: The Foundation for IoT Value Creation” and “Managing IoT Connectivity for Tomorrow: Growing your connected device business” and join the SAP Digital Interconnect Community.