SoftBank invests in the new company
Today, Izuma Networks announced the acquisition of SoftBank’s Pelion edge software business, including the IoT device management products. Izuma inherits the extensive software and intellectual property portfolio that Arm’s IoT Services Group (ISG) developed from 2013 to 2020. Izuma also announced an investment by SoftBank Group that enables the new company to hit the ground running.
In 2020, Arm spun off Pelion as an independent SoftBank business unit. At that time, Pelion had three product lines – connectivity, device management, and edge processing. As an independent business unit, Pelion narrowed its strategy to focus on cellular device connectivity using SIMs and eSIMs, leveraging software and services acquired from Stream Technologies in 2018. While concentrating on connectivity, Pelion put the device management and edge software portfolio in maintenance mode, supporting existing customers but not growing those businesses.
The fate of SoftBank’s Pelion device management and edge processing businesses has been a mystery since spinning off from Arm. I’ve always wondered what would become of the rich trove of intellectual property, software, and services created by hundreds of talented Arm engineers during seven years of intensive development. Now we know – Izuma inherits all of it, along with a financial foundation from Softbank.
Izuma Networks is a startup founded by Travis McCollum and Ed Hemphill. These industry veterans founded WigWag in 2016 to build one of the first managed platforms for edge computing. WigWag’s software ran mainly on IoT gateways – appliance-like computers that connect sensors, actuators, and other embedded devices to applications running in the cloud or at the edge. Arm acquired WigWag in 2019 to expand ISG’s edge processing capabilities. After the acquisition, Hemphill and McCollum continued developing Arm’s edge platforms until the Pelion spin-off in 2020.
I recently spoke with Ed Hemphill about these Arm-to-Pelion-to-Izuma transitions, the evolution of edge computing, and Izuma’s product strategy. Here’s what I learned and why I think Izuma’s strategy makes sense.
Izuma offers two complementary product lines for IoT devices:
- Izuma Connect – Device networking and software lifecycle management for microcontroller-based IoT devices
- Izuma Edge – Containerized application deployment and management for edge platforms
Izuma Connect and Izuma Edge comprise a flexible framework for managing small IoT devices and deploying applications on-site at the edge of the network. This edge framework connects to the Izuma Cloud software suite running on a public cloud, customer cloud, or bare metal servers.
Izuma Connect handles the specialized “plumbing” that low-power, microcontroller-based IoT devices need. In the world of small devices, services like connectivity, device provisioning, firmware updates, and data ingestion are surprisingly complicated and often application-specific. Although no single IoT framework covers the whole spectrum of IoT devices and applications, Izuma’s coverage is impressive. As the direct descendent of Arm’s PDMC (Pelion Device Management Client) library, a rebranded extension of Arm’s classic Mbed Client IoT framework, Izuma Connect inherits a rich library of software that runs on a broad range of devices. Arm ISG started building the foundation for Mbed Client in 2013 with the acquisition of Sensinode, an influential leader in standards-based device architecture and embedded software design. After seven years of continuous development, the PDMC (Izuma Connect) code base is highly evolved, mature, and stable, with many years of real-world deployments.
Izuma Edge is the next generation of Pelion Edge, with roots extending back to Arm’s Mbed Cloud services and the WigWag gateway. After acquiring WigWag, the Arm ISG group enhanced the product with comprehensive cloud data services and containerized application orchestration (Kubernetes). Izuma Edge can still function as a gateway, but edge computation (“analytics at the edge”) is now the main focus. Izuma Edge enables customers to deploy applications using standard Kubernetes on almost any Linux-based edge platform. Izuma Edge also insulates customers from cloud dependencies via the Izuma Cloud package, which runs on AWS, Azure, Google, or other clouds. The net effect is to enable Kubernetes application components written for cloud deployments (Google GKE or Amazon EKS, for instance) to run unmodified on small edge platforms. Customers can deploy analytics applications in the cloud or at the edge with little or no modification.
Izuma’s strategy and architecture
At first glance, Izuma’s strategic direction looks similar to the old Mbed / Pelion strategy – and not much different from the other 50 or so IoT frameworks on the market. So, I asked Ed Hemphill if Izuma would head in a different direction. I liked his answer, which is consistent with my opinions about why many IoT frameworks are failing and why the IoT is scaling more slowly than expected.
Over 50 “horizontal” IoT frameworks are on the market from companies ranging in size from small startups to hyperscale companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. Few frameworks can demonstrate any financial success, none have achieved “breakthrough” market share, and some are exiting the business (recently, Google IoT Core and Pelion).
Horizontal (multi-domain) IoT frameworks achieve development efficiencies by providing layered, pre-integrated, end-to-end software stacks spanning device firmware, edge computing, data collection, data management, and analytics across many vertical industries. Typical framework marketing pitches say, “Put your whole solution in my world, and I’ll take care of everything for you.” Although this sounds great, the one-size-fits-all approach seldom satisfies the complex requirements of real-world IoT solutions.
When a framework meets the needs of a solution developer, success stories can be very compelling – rapid development, smooth device-to-cloud data paths, good security, reliable operation, and minimal coding. Unfortunately, most IoT projects do not fit cleanly into pre-integrated frameworks. Hence, developers must modify or extend multiple stack layers to work with specialized devices, fit into targeted vertical industries, and integrate with enterprise software. These costly customizations often reduce (or destroy) the framework’s initial value proposition. Even worse, framework adaptations require ongoing maintenance and testing as frameworks and solutions evolve. Solution developers need investment-grade flexibility, stability, and longevity – and the current crop of horizontal IoT frameworks falls short.
A Google spokesperson recently explained the cancellation of the Google IoT Core framework like this: “Customers’ needs could be better served by our network of partners that specialize in IoT applications and services.” This realization isn’t unique to Google. Other providers are also rethinking framework strategies as more IoT developers discover that the costs of adapting pre-integrated, ready-to-use, horizontal frameworks to meet intricate solution requirements often outweigh the benefits. IoT scalability requires plug-and-play interfaces at multiple layers of the IoT stack rather than a single rigid device-to-cloud path with flexible interfaces only at the endpoints.
Enterprises need the freedom to select the best software and services for device management, connectivity, application orchestration, data aggregation, data management, data analytics, cloud computing, and other functions without the framework getting in the way. Flexible, componentized, plug-and-play IoT solution development is key to building practical horizontal frameworks, and this approach is central to Izuma’s architecture.
Here’s what I mean by “flexible and componentized.” If you already have cloud-based applications, keep using them as-is – there’s no requirement to host your data and apps on the framework’s native cloud. If you’re using GKE for app deployment, that’s fine. If you’re already sending device data using MQTT or existing APIs, you don’t need to use a framework-specific data interface. If you want to write your own data aggregator, you can plug it into the framework at the appropriate layer. If you need to use a unique device OS and software stack, Izuma Connect is easy to adapt. I’m oversimplifying here, but Izuma’s strategy is consistent with this “unbundled” vision for IoT solution design.
Separating OT from IT
Izuma can also help implement the well-known Purdue Model for industrial control system security, which firewalls the “wild west” of operations technology (OT) from the “buttoned-down” world of information technology (IT). For example, Izuma Edge can run in a DMZ, connected simultaneously to enterprise IT infrastructure and OT devices. In this configuration, Izuma Edge manages OT devices (i.e., via Izuma Connect) over dedicated device networks, firewalled (isolated) from IT networks. Izuma Edge can run on small on-premise servers without the cost and complexity of deploying a full cloud stack in an OT environment, thereby reducing the deployment cost of Purdue-type installations.
In addition to Kubernetes-based component management, Izuma Edge includes Izuma Connect for connecting and managing small microcontroller-based devices. Izuma Connect and Izuma Edge are complementary but not co-dependent. Customers don’t have to use Izuma Connect to manage devices, and those devices can operate with or without Izuma Edge. Developers are free to mix and match software and services for device management, connectivity, application orchestration, and other services to meet the needs of specific vertical industries and application domains. This flexible, componentized architecture is central to Izuma’s product design.
Horizontal (multi-domain) IoT framework providers have three options: (1) Remain horizontal and move to a plug-and-play architecture, (2) focus on specific device types within a single vertical industry, or (3) exit the business. A few have already exited, and I know others are also considering that path. Some frameworks are already getting traction in specific verticals, and I expect those companies to double down as niche providers. But very few frameworks have the right strategy, technologies, and scale to build a comprehensive and practical plug-and-play IoT framework. Izuma has the vision, software, IP, and financial foundation to be a leader in this space. Let’s see if they can execute.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.