The Internet of Things (IoT) is a key driving force behind the digitisation of our industry and society, with some 10 billion connected devices worldwide in 2021. Smart next-generation IoT systems realise distributed and coordinated intelligence among large-scale resources with closed loop from sensing to actuation. This vision relies on advanced software services running across IoT, Edge and Cloud spaces, bringing the intelligence required to the devices.
Developing software for IoT applications is complex and often a bottleneck for application providers. For cloud and web-based applications, DevOps has become a widely adopted form of software development, encouraging developers to make frequent changes and continuously place them in production aiming to react quickly to environmental changes and achieve economy of scale.
However, DevOps for IoT is still in its infancy; state-of-the-art DevOps methods and tools rely heavily on a cloud-like infrastructure, typically centralised, predictable, and homogeneous, in order to achieve fully automated deployment and operation. These assumptions are no longer valid for IoT applications, so the main question behind ENACT was how to enable DevOps in the realm of trustworthy smart IoT systems.
The project results
Launched in January 2018 and receiving around €5 million in EU funding, the ENACT consortium investigated the main challenges preventing the adoption of DevOps for trustworthy smart IoT systems and developed new techniques in order to address such challenges. The main result is the ENACT DevOps framework for such systems, comprising 10 loosely coupled open-source software tools, the ENACT enablers, facilitating IoT application providers in development, operation, and quality assurance of secure IoT systems.
The framework provides the first systematic solution for DevOps in IoT, bringing novel concepts of continuous delivery, agile operation, and automatic quality assurance from cloud applications to trustworthy smart IoT systems. The solution is powered by a series of breakthrough theories; by regarding the IoT system as a fleet rather than just individual devices, the project automatically deployed the software along the whole IoT-Edge-Cloud continuum in a holistic manner. By introducing evidence-based continuous risk management into the development process, a new way to support automatic quality assurance through the lifecycle of smart IoT systems was provided.
The ENACT project is the first to give support for identifying and addressing actuation conflicts in smart IoT systems. The project uses machine learning for attack monitoring on the whole IoT stack (from network to application) and for self-adaptation of system behaviours. ENACT also uses event recording and replay with attack simulation to automate the simulation and testing of IoT software. The project builds knowledge basis and analysis methods to identify the behavioural drift of IoT systems after a long time of running, and to analyse the root causes of abnormal behaviour.
After the project
The ENACT framework has been used by three IoT application providers from diverse domains and in different development stages. In particular, Tecnalia, a research institute in Spain, used the framework to build experimentation environment for smart building applications on their Kubik testbed. The environment was extended by CNRS, another research institute in France, to build education facilitates for smart homes, which was used for courses and a hackathon event at the University of Nice. INDRA, a system integrator also based in Spain, used the ENACT framework to verify and integrate hardware and software components from their suppliers, and facilitate the development of their integrated intelligent transportation systems. Finally, Tellu, an SME providing eHealth solutions in Norway, used the ENACT framework to enhance the DevOps environment for their healthcare product. Without this framework, it would have been more challenging for Tellu to grow in the last 3 years from 7 to 40 employees, becoming the market leader for eHealth in Norway.
All partners have concrete plans on continuing the development and exploitation of the ENACT framework and individual enablers. The enablers are released as open source projects, together with the guidelines for integration, with the help of the OW2 open source consortium. Some companies have included ENACT enablers in their portfolio plans, and research institutes are in contact with technology transfer consultants. Last but not least, Beawre, as a spin-off SME from ENACT, will continue the exploitation of the risk management enabler, with a focus on the construction sector. They have already won several start-up competitions and secured their first investment and contracts.
The project’s three-year lifecycle has proved that it is both feasible and beneficial to incorporate an advanced DevOps method into IoT. Finally, IoT applications can be developed and operated nearly in the same way as cloud and web-based applications, towards high production, flexibility, and trustworthiness. This will boost innovative emerging IoT applications, accelerating the next wave of digitisation powered by both IoT and edge computing, thanks to support from the European Commission, aiming at revolutionary improvements on how we develop software in different areas of digitalisation.
The research and investigation effort behind ENACT enablers has resulted in 45 papers in academic venues, including 6 in high-quality journals and another 6 in A-ranking conferences. Two of the A-ranking conferment papers also won the best paper awards.
In addition, a book on DevOps for Trustworthy Smart IoT Systems was published in July 2021, elaborating the methodology and techniques used by the project.