Most IoT stacks balance open source and big tech

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Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is a fast-changing field in software development. It may also be a new battleground between open source tech and big cloud providers.

While open source technology powers much of the IoT ecosystem, big tech is cementing its leadership in cloud and middleware services that underpin most IoT stacks. For engineering teams building IoT projects, measuring reliance on open source and proprietary tech can help identify potential bottlenecks—including cost and support—to consider as they scale.

The Eclipse Foundation, a not-for-profit focused on incubating open source projects, released results from its 2020 IoT Developer Survey. The survey provides key insights into the IoT industry landscape and opportunities for the IoT ecosystem to evolve and grow.

According to the report, many key technologies—like operating systems and databases—are powered by open source projects. Conversely, middleware and cloud services rely heavily on Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

IoT depends on open source technologies

Most individual contributors embrace open source software and are active in open source communities. According to the survey, 65% of respondents either experiment with, use, or contribute to open source projects.

As a result, many of the technologies used in IoT are open source, too.

Linux and FreeRTOS are the most popular operating systems, used by 43% and 35% of IoT developers, respectively, for constrained devices and edge nodes. Zephyr, another popular open source operating system, more than doubled in usage over the last year to 8% of developers, up from just 3% in 2019.

Windows, Microsoft’s proprietary operating system, grew from 20% to 31% in the last year, likely driven by growing adoption of Azure IoT.

Even so, popular operating systems used in IoT development mostly fall under open source licenses.

IoT operating systems

Similarly, popular databases in IoT are open source projects.

MariaDB, MongoDB, and PostgreSQL—all open source—rank as the most popular choice among IoT developers.

IoT databasees

Big tech controls middleware and clouds

Despite the rapid adoption of open source in IoT, big cloud providers dominate both cloud and middleware services.

IoT middleware—a portfolio of services to help developers manage their IoT deployments—offers a narrow set of options for developers. AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud collectively control nearly 96% of the middleware market.

IoT middleware

Within general IoT development, however, AWS reigns supreme as the public cloud of choice. About 40% of IoT developers use AWS cloud services, while just 31% use Azure and 26% use Google Cloud Platform.

IoT public cloud providers

Understanding vendor risk matters

To balance open source and big tech, IoT initiatives will require additional research to understand long-term vendor risk. How will engineering teams adjust?

Vet vendors carefully. When scoping new IoT projects, teams should identify potential issues when scaling with certain vendors. With fewer options available, engineers should be particularly careful vetting differences between big cloud providers to understand the potential cost of vendor lock-in.

Invest in open source where possible. Despite early dominance by big tech, IoT is still a rapidly changing field. There is a growing ecosystem of budding open source projects in development that promise to make IoT more accessible, easier to deploy, and increasingly powerful.

Teams can discover and invest resources into new open source IoT projects. Early adopters will benefit from being active in the community—finding bugs, contributing fixes, and more.

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