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    PCB Technology Trends: The Benefits of Internet of Things Security Gateways

    November 9, 2017

    Glowing yellow spiral on black background

    Do you ever like to take a break from social situations for a few days and spend some quality time with your television? I do that maybe a little more often than I should, and last week I spent that time binge-watching the new season of Stranger Things. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s about a girl with psychic powers who opens a portal to another dimension (the Upside Down) filled with creatures. The gateway to that world lets monsters loose, but in the Internet of Things (IoT) gateways, or edge devices, can help you control monstrous devices. These gateways can help connect modern and legacy devices together, and they can funnel information from local area networks (LAN) to the wider Internet. There are three main advantages to directing IoT traffic through one portal: enhanced security, simpler connection protocols, and centralized processing.

    What Are IoT Gateways?

    You don’t have to be as smart as “Bob the Brain” to understand IoT gateways. These devices have been invented to control the imminent flood of IoT gadgets. They can help us make sense of a distributed network of sensors or other devices by acting as a connection node for the system. In order to be useful as a gatekeeper, these gizmos generally have processing capabilities, storage, battery backup, an Internet connection, and can communicate via multiple different protocols.

    The diversity of the IoT is one of its greatest strengths but could become a crippling weakness. With so many companies making different devices that use a variety of communication protocols, creating a coherent system could become difficult. Gateways help solve this problem for designers by giving us a single access point that we can route information through.

    In order to do its job effectively, an IoT portal will need several features including: local processing and storage, connection to the wide area network (WAN), reliable power, and multi-protocol communication.

    • Local Processing and Storage - While you may want to use the cloud for your heavy processing needs, your gateway will need an onboard microcontroller and storage in order to parse and collect data.

    • Internet Connection - Most large IoT systems will eventually route information online so that users can view their data. Every device hooked up to a portal may not have connection itself, so it’s critical that the gateway be able to upload to the Internet.

    • Reliable Power - Most sensors in an IoT network are low power so that they can operate for days, or even years, without having their batteries replaced. Your edge device will be constantly communicating with the sensors and parsing data, which will take a lot of energy. A good portal will have a battery backup or a low power state so that it never completely loses functionality. You don’t want your edge device to flicker like Joyce’s Christmas lights.

    • Broad Connectivity - The IoT will use a variety of networks and protocols to connect sensors. In fact, you may want to mix and match protocols in your system, which is why it’s imperative that gateways be able to handle any and all communication methods out there.

    CCTV headed man
    An IoT gateway can act as a security guard for your networks.

    Benefits of Edge Devices

    IoT gateways provide a variety of extremely important benefits for sensor networks. They help improve the security of systems that can be as vulnerable to attack as poor Barb. Since edge devices act as a data node, they can also be used for centralized processing. Lastly, their multi-protocol communication capabilities can allow you to connect any sensor you choose, even extremely old ones.

    • Security - Cybersecurity is extremely important in all embedded systems, from cars to sensors. The primary benefit of using a gateway is that it reduces the exposure of your system. It also lets you secure a few high-level devices instead of a network of dumb sensors. Using a hub will let you easily secure far-flung gadgets, add on new ones, and rest easy knowing your entire network won’t turn into a botnet (like the shadow monster hive mind).

    • Processing - You may want to use something like a multi-sensor platform with AI to inject some sense into your network. The problem, though, is that machine learning takes a lot of processing power. Far more than can be mounted on a typical low power IoT device. Gateways can either have onboard processors or use the cloud to connect to deep neural networks to add intelligence to your system. By using a portal to do the heavy lifting, your devices can get brains without batteries.

    • Connectivity - I’ve already mentioned that most edge devices will be able to communicate on all protocols. Let’s say, though, you also have old legacy devices on your system that you don’t want to get rid of. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to communicate directly with newer sensors. However, if you add that capability to your gateway you can seamlessly integrate aging sensors.

    Steve and Dustin from Stranger Things
    I think we’re all a little envious of Steve’s hair. Editorial credit: DFree / Shutterstock.com

    You may not be able to have Steve Harrington’s hair, but you can imitate Hawkin’s Lab with a gateway of your own. Instead of ending the world, your portal should enhance network connectivity, process data, connect to the Internet, and always stay on. The right edge device will enhance the security of your network, allow you to centralize processing, and could even let you integrate those old devices that are still running.

    Now that you don’t have to worry about someone hacking your network, you can create all those IoT devices you’ve been dreaming of. Even Steve needed a bat to fight the Demogorgon, so you might want a little assistance in your designs. CircuitStudio® boasts a wide variety of advanced features that will make PCB design easy peasy.

    Have more questions about IoT gateways? Call an expert at Altium.

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