At its recent Re:Invent 2020 event, Amazon Web Services (AWS) revealed that it now has more than half a billion devices connected across more than ten thousand customers who are using its IoT infrastructure. Existing AWS IoT components are quite technical building-blocks, ranging from FreeRTOS and Greengrass running on the device, to IoT Core, IoT Analytics and IoT Device Manager in the cloud. They are the classic “by developers, for developers” best-in-class, technical components for which AWS is known. However, none of these components solve one of the biggest problems plaguing the IoT industry – empowering your Operations team to provide a great customer service.
Enter, the entirely new AWS IoT Fleet Hub. This recently-announced tool stands-out because its envisaged primary user is an Operations person, not a technical person – something we haven’t seen from AWS before, for IoT at least. It seems that Amazon is finally recognising the importance of Service Monitoring for companies deploying IoT at scale.
But what does this mean for the IoT industry, and how does Fleet Hub differ from existing Service Monitoring tools?
Why has AWS created Fleet Hub?
AWS Fleet Hub is essentially a management tool, helping IoT providers to manage lots of devices – say over 1,000 – answering questions around the level of service they are providing as well as rooting out and solving problems across their estate.
Until now, AWS IoT components have largely siloed devices individually, using tools like AWS IoT Device Manager to carry out tasks such as updating firmware on a device-by-device basis. But this isn’t sufficient if you are trying to carry out an upgrade on thousands of devices. Likewise, you can use existing IoT Analytics to alert you to rules on a per-device basis, such as a battery on a device being low, but if you have thousands of devices, you will quickly become overwhelmed with devices pinging you constantly.
Operations executives really need a big-picture, wood-for-the-trees, single-pane-of-glass view of the world – which is exactly what AWS IoT Fleet Hub aims to provide.
Although it may seem like a strange move for Amazon to produce tools aimed at operators rather than developers, a key concept in AWS IoT CTO Werner Vogel’s keynote at Re:Invent 2020 was the importance of observability – in a world where everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
Ultimately, Fleet Hub should enable non-technical operations workers to resolve problems much more effectively, empowering them to deliver a better customer service. It is my hope that over time this will help to banish the belief that IoT is unreliable.
Fleet Hub vs Service Monitoring
So how does Fleet Hub differ from existing IoT Service Monitoring tools? Conceptually, the two are very similar, and both sit in the same category of tools used by Operations people to manage device estates at a high level.
Both are operations portals; both offer a big-picture view of an entire estate of connected devices; and both use some element of automation to create rules and alerts.
However, AWS Fleet Hub only works for “all in” AWS IoT customers, who already use AWS IoT from bottom to top, as opposed to universal systems provided by alternative tools.
Also, whereas Fleet Hub is quite “downwards”-focused on managing predetermined layers such as device management (OTA updates), other Service Monitoring tools perhaps focus a little more on measuring and optimising service-delivery to the end customer.
Finally, while it is important to remember that this is just the first version of AWS Fleet Hub, the product doesn’t look as polished as other Service Monitoring platforms on the market. Whilst the tool is fine for internal use, it isn’t going to blow customers away with its presentation in a way that other, more established platform might.
On your marks, get set…
It looks as though AWS Fleet Hub is the starting gun for the Service Monitoring category in IoT, and it is heartening to see such an established figure in the tech industry recognising the challenges faced by IoT service providers.
Increasing the visibility of the entire estate of devices (or should we say “fleet”?) in a way that Operations professionals can understand and operate, without the need for any code-writing, is a real gamechanger for the IoT industry as it looks to throw off its early reputation of delivering a poor service. Of course, Amazon isn’t the only player in this market, and we can expect some rough edges until it’s been battle-tested by many customers, whereas established IoT Service Monitoring platforms have already gone through these “hard yards”, but hopefully Fleet Hub is a real step in the right direction for customers using AWS IoT, and will help enable IoT to fulfil its enormous potential.