To benefit from IoT, businesses need a way to network, manage and secure all of their connected devices. While there are proprietary IoT middleware platforms available to do this for the home and heavy industries like manufacturing, the Kaa IoT platform is one of the few open source options on the market today that is business-ready.
Spun out of software development firm CyberVision Inc. in 2013, Kaa is now a stand-alone IoT middleware platform downloadable under the Apache 2.0 license, making it completely free to use. Kaa acts as the secure device gateway and message broker, shuttling data from an array of heterogeneous devices at the edge to the application consuming the data.
“Kaa is the glue between the device and the application,” said Olga Machushnyk, Kaa’s public relations manager, pointing out it was one of the first IoT middleware platforms on the market. “Everything between the cloud and application is us. When it comes to platforms that are enterprise paid services, you are restricted in almost everything — you are hosted on their cloud, you are paying for devices. When you are using Kaa, there are no restrictions. You can host 200 devices per server, for example. When it comes to other platforms, you have to pay for licenses.”
For most IoT customers today, however, this is not really a big selling point because few in-house developers are going to have the knowledge the company needs to put the Kaa IoT platform to work. That’s why Kaa has adopted the Red Hat model of offering the code for free but then providing integration and other services to make it work in a business environment. So far, business is good enough for the company to employee about 100 people in Ukraine.
“Since we allow everyone to download it, it’s difficult [to turn a profit], but a lot of people have big projects. And these people need help with integration and customization and, since we are the ones who have the developed the platform from scratch, we are the people who know how to do this,” Machushnyk said.
Dion Hinchcliffevice president and principal analyst, Constellation Research
As new features and functionality are added, Kaa may charge for enterprise versions of the platform, but the core will remain open source. “We might diversify it a little bit just to make it more approachable for big companies,” she said.
According to Machushnyk, the total number of customers is hard to know because anyone can download the software, but the company claims it has customers in healthcare, telecom, industry and government. It also says there are more than 200 developers actively working with the platform and it is seeing hundreds of downloads per month. GitHub shows 3,554 users and 1,327 “repositories” or active projects.
Without naming names, Machushnyk added that one of the largest food processing companies for airports is a client, as well as a top wearables producer and many healthcare and monitoring devices companies.
Because it is open source, if an entrepreneurial company or individual with the talent and resources wants to get into the IoT middleware market, Kaa provides a good on-ramp, said Dion Hinchcliffe, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.
“If a company wanted to improve its supply chain, it would want to use Kaa because it already has all those capabilities,” he said. “Or if you are going to develop your own solutions to compete with GE, C3 IoT and Uptake, you are using Kaa.”
According to research from MarketsandMarkets, the IoT middleware market will be worth $11.5 billion by 2020, up significantly from $3.8 billion in 2015. The Kaa platform is well-positioned to take advantage of this growth, Hinchcliffe said.
However, there are some caveats, he added — one of the more pressing being Kaa not talking about security enough.
Machushnyk maintained that the platform is secure and that the new release, Kaa 1.0.0 Banana Beach, will feature enhanced security.
“The communication between the platform and devices is secured with TLS and we also have a component called Sentinel for managing user identity, permissions, user roles and operations, and so forth,” she added.
Features and functions
Although the release date is still some months away, according to Kaa’s website, “the Banana Beach release sets a new platform paradigm with a ton of architectural and functional improvements.”
These include a microservices architecture and containerized features; allowing every component of the platform to be customized or substituted with third-party software; out-of-the-box MQTT support; software development kit-less, technology independence; and being developer- and DevOps-friendly.
Even though the Kaa IoT platform was among the first open source platforms to market, it does have a lot of competition, although it’s as yet unclear which of the open source platforms will be robust enough for business. According to Andy Mulholland, Constellation Research’s retiring vice president and principal analyst, to meet this criteria, these offerings must have the following capabilities:
- endpoint management
- asset management
- protocol management
- data flow management
- message management
- real-time integration
- read-write embedded IoT
- be AI- and machine learning-capable
Aside from the Kaa IoT platform, other open source options that offer this level of functionality include Apache NiFi, Hortonworks DataFlow (based on Apache NiFi), microServiceBus and OpenRemote. H2s Media has also put together a list of open source IoT middleware platforms that, to a greater or lesser degree, may be useful from a business sense. Another recent arrival that might stack up is Mainflux.
“It’s still early days, so there’s no betting the farm on any of these things, but everyone knows that platform is going to be the play,” Hinchcliffe said. “Everyone knows how big IoT is going to be — it’s going to be the biggest tech thing ever.”
“We are the platform that allows you to do what you want in every single use case in every single industry,” Machushnyk said. “We offer freedom, we allow you take all your data and host it wherever you want and to secure it yourself, and freedom of technology so you can integrate any additional platforms.”