System Architecture


IoT Systems are distributed systems

IoT systems are inherently distributed where data needs to be synchronized between a number of different systems including:

  1. Cloud (one to several instances depending on the level of reliability desired)
  2. Edge devices (many instances)
  3. User Interface (phone, browser)

IoT Distributed System

Typically, the cloud instance stores all the system data, and the edge, browser, and mobile devices access a subset of the system data.

Extensible architecture

Any siot app can function as a standalone, client, server or both. As an example, siot can function both as an edge (client) and cloud apps (server).

  • full client: full siot node that initiates and maintains connection with another siot instance on a server. Can be behind a firewall, NAT, etc.
  • server: needs to be on a network that is accessible by clients

We also need the concept of a lean client where an effort is made to minimize the application size to facilitate updates over IoT cellular networks where data is expensive.

Device communication and messaging

In an IoT system, data from sensors is continually streaming, so we need some type of messaging system to transfer the data between various instances in the system. This project uses for messaging. Some reasons:

  • allows us to push realtime data to an edge device behind a NAT, on cellular network, etc -- no public IP address, VPN, etc required.
  • is more efficient than HTTP as it shares one persistent TCP connection for all messages. The overhead and architecture is similar to MQTT, which is proven to be a good IoT solution. It may also use less resources than something like observing resources in CoAP systems, where each observation requires a separate persistent connection.
  • can scale out with multiple servers to provide redundancy or more capacity.
  • is written in Go, so possible to embed the server to make deployments simpler for small systems. Also, Go services are easy to manage as there are no dependencies.
  • focus on simplicity -- values fit this project.
  • good security model.

For systems that only need to send one value several times a day, CoAP is probably a better solution than NATS. Initially we are focusing on systems that send more data -- perhaps 5-30MB/month. There is no reason we can't support CoAP as well in the future.

Data modification

Where possible, modifying data (especially nodes) should be initiated over nats vs direct db calls. This ensures anything in the system can have visibility into data changes. Eventually we may want to hide db operations that do writes to force them to be initiated through a NATS message.

data flow

Simple, Flexible data structures

As we work on IoT systems, data structures (types) tend to emerge. Common data structures allow us to develop common algorithms and mechanism to process data. Instead of defining a new data type for each type of sensor, define one type that will work with all sensors. Then the storage (both static and time-series), synchronization, charting, and rule logic can stay the same and adding functionality to the system typically only involves changing the edge application and the frontend UI. Everything between these two end points can stay the same. This is a very powerful and flexible model as it is trivial to support new sensors and applications.

Constant vs Varying parts of System

See Data for more information.

Node Tree

The same Simple IoT application can run in both the cloud and device instances. The node tree in a device would then become a subset of the nodes in the cloud instance. Changes can be made to nodes in either the cloud or device and data is sycnronized in both directions.

cloud device node tree

The following diagram illustrates how nodes might be arranged in a typical system.

node diagram

A few notes this structure of data:

  • A user has access to its child nodes, parent nodes, and parent node descendants (parents, children, siblings, nieces/nephews).
  • Likewise, a rule node processes points from nodes using the same relationships described above.
  • A user can be added to any node. This allows permissions to be granted at any level in the system.
  • A user can be added to multiple nodes.
  • A node admin user can configure nodes under it. This allows a service provider to configure the system for their own customers.
  • If a point changes, it triggers rules of upstream nodes to run (perhaps paced to some reasonable interval)
  • The Edge Dev Offline rule will fire if any of the Edge devices go offline. This allows us to only write this rule once to cover many devices.
  • When a rule triggers a notification, the rule node and any upstream nodes can optionally notify its users.

The distributed parts of the system include the following instances:

  • Cloud (could be multiple for redundancy). The cloud instances would typically store and synchronize the root node and everything under it.
  • Edge Devices (typically many instances (1000's) connected via low bandwidth cellular data). Edge instances would would store and synchronize the edge node instance and descendants (ex Edge Device 1)
  • Web UI (potentially dozens of instances connected via higher bandwidth browser connection).

As this is a distributed system where nodes may be created on any number of connected systems, node IDs need to be unique. A unique serial number or UUID is recommended.