MQTT Promotes Standards, Interoperability on IoT

Last week MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport) provided developers with a signal that it may be emerging as a de facto protocol for the IoT. This validation comes in the light of positive MQTT Interoperability Test Day results that were published by the host of the event: The Eclipse Foundation and the Eclipse IoT Working Group. The Eclipse Foundation and the Eclipse IoT Working Group announced the results of a MQTT Interoperability Test Day held in March during which 15 companies, including large software vendors like IBM, Software AG and RedHat, tested how well various implementations of MQTT adhere to the draft specification and how interoperable they are with each other. Players in the IoT space have been moving slowly on standards but The Eclipse Foundation’s Ian Skerrett, expects the recent developments with MQTT will help change that. “I think we are already seeing more adoption of MQTT. Developers want and need some of the basic building blocks for creating IoT applications. They are tired of reinventing it themselves. Demonstrating that MQTT is indeed interoperable will help with future adoption,” Skerrett explains.

Leading the Drive for Interoperability: MQTT

According to Skerrett, interoperability is crucial to the burgeoning IoT market. “The current state of the IoT industry has resulted in a lot of siloed, proprietary solutions,” he told me. “Many of these solutions will offer an ‘open’ API but that API only works for the proprietary solutions. This makes it very difficult for the users to integrate solutions from different providers. If we really want an ‘Internet of Things’ it needs to be easy to integrate like we can with the real Internet.” One of the early protocols is Message Queuing Telemetry Transport, or MQTT, developed by IBM and Eurotech and designed to provide publish/subscribe messaging transport. While still early, the test results paint an encouraging picture for developers looking for standards to emerge. “Overall, more than 50% of the test pairs were considered successful. At this stage of the standardization process, this demonstrates a good level of interoperability between MQTT implementations and points to the ease of creating interoperable IoT solutions based on MQTT,” the Eclipse Foundation stated in a press release. Another test day is planned for later this year and Skerrett believes that even more progress will be evident then: “The next test day will be focused on the final specification for MQTT. Right now it is still in draft form so not all the providers have updated their implementation. I will expect at the next test day we would see a lot more participants and more instances of successful testing.”

Future Development

The Internet of Things (IoT) is booming, and as more and more companies look to connect the world using sensors and smart devices, establishing protocols that will serve as the backbone of the IoT is one of the most important steps in ensuring the IoT realizes its trillion-dollar potential. HTTP is the foundation of the web we use on a daily basis, but the IoT has different needs. For one, the IoT will be home to a lot more devices. Billions of smart devices, including sensors, will be a part of the IoT network. Additionally, many of them will need to communicate with each other and operate in environments where bandwidth and computing resources are constrained, which is one of MQTT’s sweet spots. There is still work to be done, both on MQTT and other protocols that are being adopted. As Holger Reinhardt of Layer 7 Technologies has noted, “each protocol has weaknesses.” MQTT, he suggests, “appears to be weak in security.” Skerrett acknowledges that security is an important subject and believes it is one of the biggest issues facing the IoT industry as a whole. For many of standards developing around protocols, finding a balance between usability and security could be key. “I think the challenge for MQTT will be to retain its simplicity and ease of use. All too often you see ‘feature-creep’ emerge in successful standards. Right now it does a very good job with a simple specification,” Skerrett says. Ultimately, a number of key standards and protocols, such as MQTT, will be broadly adopted across various IoT applications, says Skerrett, but because the IoT is so diverse and there are so many varied applications, there is also room for application-specific protocols, many of which will likely be built on top of open standards like MQTT.

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