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Eclipse 2018 survey: The IoT landscape, what it empirically looks like

This article was last updated 4 years ago.

Every year the Eclipse Foundation along with other sponsors conduct an online survey of the IoT market looking at what technologies are being used and how. The 2018 edition of that survey has just been made available and I thought it would be a great idea to look at some of the overarching trends. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) landscape continues to gain momentum in every facet of our daily lives, from the car that you drive to the TV that provides your evening entertainment. These ‘things’ are everywhere and if analysts like Gartner are to believed, and why not, adoption of IoT technology is about to skyrocket. But there is so much hype around this particular buzzword and a lot of this future gazing is just that, whereas this Eclipse survey is backed by experts in the field working in IoT today. So when real, empirical data is available on the state of the IoT landscape it is particularly valuable for decision makers and people looking to enter or expand their IoT story.

The IoT OS of choice is Linux

According to the 2018 respondents, the overwhelming choice for their IoT operating system (OS) is Linux with a commanding 71%, the top 3 choices being Raspbian, Ubuntu, or Debian. Interestingly all of these systems are closely related with Raspbian and Ubuntu both being somewhat based on Debian. What may be more interesting is that all 3 of these distributions can run Snaps, the next-generation packaging format designed from the ground up with security, robustness, and upgradeability in mind – all key aspects for anyone looking to create or use IoT devices.

Another interesting data point from the survey is that devices which traditionally have a little more horsepower, such as gateways, see Linux hold a commanding lead. However, in the more constrained environment of low-powered, low-compute devices, “No OS / Bare Metal” combined with “FreeRTOS”, the small micro-controller focused OS, shares the same adoption rate as Linux (around 40%). This may be unsurprising as Linux is not the answer to every problem. I expect this distribution of usage to change rapidly over the next few years as commodity hardware becomes faster and cheaper with standard and open source software becoming more important in parallel. Think of it this way, if hardware at the same price point is becoming increasingly more powerful, able to run a full Linux OS and gain all the advantages of that, why will device makers choose to roll-their-own or use specialised software? My prediction is that Linux will increasingly dominate even the constrained device market going forward.

Ubuntu continues to be strong in the IoT, Snaps are the future

Ubuntu is one of the world’s most popular Linux OS for many use cases, from software on space stations to the backbone of the public cloud so it is no surprise that Ubuntu is one of the leaders of the IoT revolution. Ubuntu and its IoT-focused rendition, Ubuntu Corerepresent a large proportion of the IoT OS systems in use today and it is no doubt that Snaps are helping to drive that adoption. The survey shows that over 40% of participants are using Ubuntu for their IoT solutions and over 40% are also choosing Raspbian. The massive success of the Raspberry Pi is driving innovation in IoT as companies and individuals often select one of these hardware platforms for rapid, low-cost prototyping and exploration or in some cases for the final solution, which may account for the large number of users.

There have been many high-profile security issues with IoT devices lately and this is only going to get worse as more and more devices come online so it is imperative that IoT device makers choose a solution with security and updateability baked in. Snaps, by definition, have an increased resilience to attack, using Linux kernel primitives and profiles to ensure applications are sandboxed and isolated both from the underlying OS and from each other. This extra security helps to ensure that even if software inside the sandbox is compromised, the device is not. Ubuntu Core goes one step further and delivers the OS itself as a Snap for even more security and what we are seeing is the market is moving to this model. Snaps are available for many OSs out there including the top 3 in this survey so whether you are using Ubuntu Core, Ubuntu, Raspbian or Debian, Snaps can give you that added piece of mind.

Everyone is interested in the promise of IoT

The survey not only looked at the technology behind this wave of IoT devices but at the people, the decision-makers, who are working with or exploring the IoT space. Both big and small organisations (less than 50 and over 5000) were represented and although nearly half were already focused on IoT today, many others were looking at the IoT from an enterprise, big data, and cloud computing angle. We are also seeing this revolution as the potential for IoT expands. When you have a lot of devices out there generating a lot of data the need for decentralisation becomes apparent. Edge compute is driving a wave of intelligent devices that not only send data to a cloud blindly but processes it locally first. Sometimes this is essential. Think about a self-driving car that had to send data to a cloud to be analysed first before making a decision to apply the brakes – it just wouldn’t work. Existing technologies are adapting to the IoT.

Anyone with a great idea, time, and a small investment can create the next big thing in IoT but this survey shows an interesting geographical split of where the respondents were based. Europe leads the way with over 50% of people based there with the next biggest being Asia and Pacific. There are a lot of great companies in IoT leading the way and we are proud to be working with some of them.

Surveys like these give us a small, but important snapshot of the IoT landscape and it’s great to see Linux coming out on top again.

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