How Suse is becoming a key player in the IoT market

I talked to the Suse CTO to understand more about their IoT strategy

How SUSE is becoming a key player in the IoT market
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According to the most recent Gartner forecast, there will be more than 8.4 billion internet connected things in use worldwide in 2017, with total spending on endpoints and services rocketing to almost $2 trillion.

When we think of IoT we usually don’t look beyond small, connected devices. But when I look at IoT, I see three core components:

  1. The user facing devices (hardware)
  2. Data centers running services for these devices

  3. Software running on these devices

It should not come as a surprise that Linux is a dominant player in the latter two categories. Most data centers and cloud, irrespective of whether its public cloud or private cloud, run on Linux. Most IoT devices run some form of Linux based operating system.

This translates into one thing: Linux is at the heart of the IoT revolution.

That leads to a question in my mind, what are traditional Linux vendors doing to exploit this immense opportunity? To get answers to my questions, I sat down with Suse CTO Thomas Di Giacomo at SuseCon. “IoT is not only vital to our customers and partners, it is a key trend for Suse as well,” said Di Giacomo.

The device side of the story

IoT is not a new phenomenon, we have been using small embedded devices for ages, and Linux has been a big player in this space. With the explosion of cloud and maturity of machine learning, we are now able to connect these devices to the internet and make them smarter.

“For many years, Suse has been actively developing and involved with integrated and embedded systems, such as point of sales, connected healthcare devices and a lot of others, which recently morphed into IoT devices and gateways,” said Di Giacomo. “Of course, while some of the requirements and technologies haven’t changed drastically, others have evolved. We are constantly working on supporting them, within our solutions directly and with partners and open source communities, or a combination of all three.”

A few years ago Suse created an operating system called JeOS (just enough operating system), a lightweight Suse Linux Enterprise distribution suitable for IoT as a small, enterprise-grade Linux distro, as it ships with all the security, reliability and stability of Suse Linux Enterprise.

Unlike many other embedded or IoT specific distros, JeOS is available on all the platforms and architectures supported by Suse Linux Enterprise.

“JeOS is also highly customizable, as it can be expanded with the Suse Linux Enterprise extensions that are useful for IoT use cases; for instance, Real Time extension. In addition, there’s a lot of open source tools, where we contribute as well as communities, which facilitate and automate the customization of our distributions,” said Di Giacomo.

On top of that, JeOS also comes with Linux-supported protocols, and to complement them with other specific IoT protocols, there is Suse’s packagehub that can be utilized. It is an open community-based platform to add packages to Suse distributions, which, in turn, expands JeOS with additional IoT protocols support.

The server side of the story

IoT devices are only one side of equation, they collect data, analyze it, process it, and throw it into their machine learning neurons to get smarter. That’s where the cloud and servers enter the picture.

“While all those connected IoT devices are possibly interacting with each other and collecting data directly, it would not work without an IoT platform at the core to manage them,” Di Giacomo said. “This holds true when it comes to controlling them, processing the data they collect, and so on, even if the edge becomes smarter and more powerful, simply for the sake of consolidation, scale and overview.”

The current IoT platforms are based on Infrastructure as a Service, running in private, public or mixed clouds. They are relying on software-defined infrastructure for compute and storage of data, automation, and management of the devices in the IoT architecture.

IoT applications are built on top of the IoT platforms to address specific IoT-related needs. Paas (Platform as a Service) is a key enabler for IoT applications and use cases. IoT applications are developed in a modern way, leveraging containers, microservices and overall DevOps principles to comply with agility and scalability needs of such IoT use cases.

“There are several Cloud Foundry-based PaaS solutions that are specifically put together for IoT, such as GE Predix, IBM Bluemix or HPE Stackato, to name a few. At Suse, we’ve been delivering solutions through our partners to date, and we're indeed also working on a generic Suse PaaS solution to address IoT but also other technical trends and verticals,” he said.

Suse is also working on a new platform for containers called MicroOS. It’s a  combination of an optimized OS for containers together with container management.

“While containers might not be very commonly used in IoT devices and gateways today, it is definitely helpful for the IoT platform itself to bridge enterprise IoT development with production and to scale compute for IoT workloads and data management, for instance,” said Di Giacomo.

At the gateway and device level, Micro OS will also provide simpler ways to manage and upgrade them, via transactional upgrades, increasing their security significantly. As a result, those devices will be container-ready for future adoption there when it comes.

Monitoring and management of IoT devices

Another critical aspect of IoT devices is monitoring and management. The explosion of IoT devices has lead to the creation of newer solutions. “Starting with the wide variety of transport and data protocols (Bluetooth Low energy, Zigbee, Modbus, MQTT, CoAP, etc.) that IoT relies on. Connectivity and protocols are actually still being worked on in different open source projects,” said Di Giacomo. “Collection, clean-up, storage, and use of data have also become a lot more important with the growth of IoT across many different industries and use cases.”

Last but not least, security requirements have become more critical due to the growing number as well as the broad diversity of IoT-connected devices and platforms. This is also where enterprise-grade solutions are required, for simple security updates and patching.

Who is using Suse technologies?

Suse has a broad set of OEM partnerships for integrated systems and embedded systems with companies such as Teradata in different industries like analytics, retail, manufacturing and healthcare. Companies like Tyco are using Suse Linux Enterprise Server for systems such as security camera (NVR) gateway servers.

The latest release of Suse Linux Enterprise Server also supports 64-bit ARM processors running on everything from the Raspberry Pi to massive servers, and it includes support for several of the main ARM system-on-chip suppliers such as Cavium, NXP/Qualcomm, Xilinx, AMD and others.

In addition, with Suse Linux Enterprise Server 12, Intel Atom C series for microservers are fully supported. “We’re working with some of our established partners to support them with their own IoT platforms, including SAP, IBM, HPE, Lenovo, and so on,” said Di Giacomo.

Conclusion: an all rounder company

Just the way Linux is an all rounder kernel that can address any market and technology trend, Suse is not an IoT only company. Suse’s products and solutions are not specifically targeting a technology trend or specific vertical.

“We aim at generic, yet adaptable, solutions. Having said that, a number of our solutions are useful for IoT applications,” Di Giacomo said. Looking at JeOS, Micro OS, Cloud Foundry, Suse OpenStack cloud, Suse storage, to name a few Suse seems to be very well positioned in the IoT landscape.

Suse certainly holds the keys to the gateway of IoT.