By Phil Strong, Founder and CEO of Zymbit
Current IoT stacks are brittle.
The promise of IoT is to integrate every thing, every where into a seamless fabric that automates our world in ways that deliver new levels of productivity and utility, with safety and reliability. That sounds great, but the reality is that integrating hardware and software into a cohesive solution that complies with cyber security requirements, operates for years and is truly open for continuous innovation, is a really tough task.
Early IoT deployments were the equivalent of pushing industrial automation controls outside the safe, managed environment of a factory, and controlling them with centralized software applications that escaped from the trusted operating environment of a data center. And then finally adding cyber security compliance as a band aid. This is scary stuff, that can lead to some very public unintended consequences.
More modern IoT deployments promise better, but they are often highly proprietary, which constrains innovation, and can result in long term lock-in to IoT specific cloud services and tool frameworks. Such rigid systems are counterproductive to innovation, which is one of the core requirements of evolving IoT infrastructure.
So what’s a better approach?
Going back to basics and asking “what tools and products do IoT developers actually need to help them deliver the full potential of IoT” can be quite liberating. Here’s what we have learned from our customers, who identify as developers, innovation engineers, IoT engineers and solution architects.
Collectively they’re on a mission to build the future fabric of the internet – connecting billions of hardware things, each hosting software and interacting, safely and continuously in zero trust environments. Today they’re building discrete IoT automation projects, but inevitably these will evolve into a hyper-connected infrastructure that’s going to be with us for decades to come.
So what are the key building blocks that IoT developers are asking for?
First, IoT engineers asked for open modular Linux compute hardware, designed to run some flavor of Linux that’s close to the metal. Raspberry Pi is by far the leading benchmark, because of its growing ecosystem of software and hardware developers, suppliers, partners and integrators. Other flavors of Pi, and the Arduino Portenta, had honorable mentions too.
Second is a clear, predictable path to security compliance. Knowing at the outset of a project that a chosen compute platform is fundamentally designed to comply with modern security standards, is a game changer. Security built-in up front, is a much lower risk approach that security bolt-on some time at the end of the project. But the reality of innovation is that security often does get pushed out until late in the project. So what’s needed is a coherent family of products that provide bolt-on security and a smooth predictable transition to related products with built-in security.
Third is a high level of qualified integration between the hardware, software and security components needed for the typical IoT technology stack. Many developers shared experiences of TPM and secure element chips they had designed into IoT motherboards for good measure, but remained dormant pieces of silicon because they were never integrated into the technology stack. Why? Because it is quite hard and time consuming to do so in a reliable way. Others cited brittle OTA tools they had built from multiple vendors’ components. They asked for a more cohesive tool chain that could configure, build and deploy atomic updates into secure silicon that managed encrypted filesystems, A/B updates and rollback safely and without bricking their fleet of devices!
A new class of Secure Edge Compute can transform the IoT innovation experience.
Addressing the need for an open, secure and highly integrated compute platform, that also delivers a productive developer experience, has been the recent focus of Zymbit’s product engineering team.
The result is a cohesive family of secure edge compute products that are open for innovation, inherently secure at the core, and immune to a lifetime of malicious attacks and inevitable operational mishaps and constraints.
All devices are AWS IoT qualified.
Secure Compute Module (SCM) contains a Pi compute module that is tightly integrated with a Zymbit hardware security supervisor. Out of the box features include supervised boot, encrypted file system, secure A/B updates, physical tamper sensors with programmable response policies, last gasp key destruction, and more. A simple API makes it easy for software developers to integrate SCM into their application, without the need for expert security knowledge. SCM integrates seamlessly with popular software development tools, and hardware is compatible with the standard pi compute module.
Secure Edge Node (SEN) is a turnkey lightweight Linux computer, with a Zymbit Secure Compute Module inside. The motherboard provides easy connectivity to most PiCM4 resources including USB, HDMI, GPIO, PCIE, and MIPI. An integrated power supply ensures reliable operation, with choices of 12VDC, POE and SATA input sources. All components are integrated into a tough enclosure, with integrated tamper switches and oversized heatsink.
Secure Hardware Modules are designed to be bolted on to existing Pi based designs. They provide an easy and effective solution for file system encryption, secure key management, protected by tamper sensors and secure silicon.
IoT is about enabling innovation in the real physical world, outside the security of factories, data centers and managed buildings. To get this done is going to take many teams of developers, who are freed of the burden of security compliance, and allowed to innovate with familiar open hardware and software tools.
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