Belkin Rebuilds Wemo Operations on AWS IoT and FreeRTOS
Technology has extraordinary potential to change the way people interact with household devices and experiences in their daily lives. It not only helps them conveniently automate everyday tasks but also arms them with insights about the safety and efficiency of their homes. Seeing an opportunity to shape the future of customizable experiences in the home, electronics leader Belkin International (Belkin) created Wemo, a family of products that has been at the forefront of home digitalization since becoming one of the first brands to launch a full suite of home automation products in 2012. Integral to its products is its Internet of Things (IoT) architecture, which enables customers to control their connected devices from their smartphones and simplify their lives by automating their homes. But as Wemo’s population of devices grew from several thousand to several million and it prepared to introduce the next generation of products, the company sought to graduate from its homegrown IoT architecture to a more streamlined one that would enable it to more cost effectively and efficiently manage its growing line of connected products.
Belkin found a solution with the IoT offerings of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which provides scalable, fully managed services from the edge to the cloud that incorporate multilayered security and integrate AI for more intelligent devices. The new AWS-backed IoT system enables Belkin to reduce costs, boost performance, and enhance the user experience—for both its next generation of IoT devices and the millions of Wemo devices already in people’s homes.
You could basically assume AWS provides unlimited resources. You don’t need to worry about scalability. Today I could have one million users; tomorrow I could have three million. AWS will be able to handle it."
Director of cloud engineering, Belkin
Upgrading to the AWS Cloud to Enable Product Growth
Belkin, a global electronics brand that specializes in connectivity devices, is no stranger to innovation. Its Wemo products have operated on the AWS Cloud since 2012, the same year it launched its original smart plug. In the years to follow, Belkin broadened its connected device functionality by becoming one of the first brands to provide Amazon Alexa, Nest, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit software authentication.
In 2019, there were more than four million Wemo devices in people’s homes. Handling that influx of data and managing millions of devices with Belkin’s old IoT system was growing increasingly complex and inefficient. At one point, it required more than 250 Traversal Using Relay around NAT (TURN) servers, which took significant resources to manage. “Maintaining a server farm of 250 instances is not an easy task to do,” says Daniel Ku, Belkin director of cloud engineering. “And if you wanted to bring up all 250 of them one by one, that was days of work.”
In preparation for the launch of four new products—the Wemo Smart Plug for use in the US, another Smart Plug for use in other countries, the Wemo Outdoor Smart Plug, and a new version of the Wemo Smart Dimmer—Belkin looked into several potential alternatives for a new IoT architecture. It performed extensive tests that compared HiveMQ, SEGGER’s emMQTT, and an AWS solution combining AWS IoT Core, a managed cloud service that lets connected devices easily and securely interact with cloud applications and other devices, with FreeRTOS, an open-source, real-time operating system. The results found that AWS IoT Core could scale to billions of devices and trillions of messages, more than satisfying Belkin’s need for scalability. But for Ku and his team, the biggest selling point was that using AWS IoT saved them time and resources: “We picked AWS IoT because of the support and the easy-to-use platform,” which meant Belkin could reduce the number of development resources to maintain and operate its IoT infrastructure.
Diving into a New System
The Belkin team pivoted from its homegrown IoT platform to AWS IoT and selected FreeRTOS as the operating system that would help program, deploy, secure, connect, and manage the Wemo network of devices. FreeRTOS extends the functionality of the open-source FreeRTOS kernel to enable secure and reliable connectivity between devices and cloud services like AWS IoT Core.
Ku and his team worked alongside AWS to learn the ins and outs of AWS IoT, how to best architect the solution, and the optimal way to build with FreeRTOS. “The solutions architects helped us a lot,” says Ku. “Whenever we have design decisions, we always ask them to see which one is better.” AWS also made sure the team understood FreeRTOS, using its global reach to host training sessions for Belkin engineers and the device manufacturer in Taiwan.
Demonstrating Untapped Potential
With Belkin preparing to launch new Wemo devices in 2020, its new AWS IoT–backed infrastructure is already showing a number of benefits. Belkin is now able to redirect resources internally from maintaining its own IoT infrastructure to focusing on developing its product experience and taking care of its customers. As a result, its development cycle has been reduced by more than 40 percent, from 12 months to less than 7 months. The reduction in development time and the ability for its development teams to focus on innovation helped Belkin offer a new account feature that enables users to more easily manage their smart devices—in short, the AWS infrastructure is helping Belkin add more value for its customers in less time.
In initial tests, Belkin has also noticed a significant reduction in product latency, resulting in a noticeable difference in the time it takes the new devices to execute a user command. “The typical single-command remote access probably takes up to a second on the TURN servers,” says Ku, “but on AWS IoT Core and FreeRTOS, we cut the round-trip time in half.”
As the new devices roll out with the new IoT architecture and as Belkin reduces its reliance on expensive TURN servers, the company expects to see a cost savings of 30–40 percent. Also, the fully managed AWS IoT services make the remaining management tasks simple for Belkin’s cloud team, letting the company focus its resources on staying vigilant in the face of potential denial-of-service attacks and sudden traffic-pattern changes.
Preparing for Exponential Growth
By updating its IoT infrastructure on AWS IoT Core and FreeRTOS, Belkin is prepared to handle a surge in innovative new connected home devices at less cost while reducing product latency. “You could basically assume AWS provides unlimited resources,” says Ku. “You don’t need to worry about scalability. Today I could have one million users; tomorrow I could have three million. AWS will be able to handle it.”
This isn’t just a benefit for new devices: Belkin will migrate as much as 60 percent of its existing Wemo devices to the AWS IoT platform—specifically a firmware migration to FreeRTOS—by the end of 2020. Belkin expects that the time and money it saves using AWS IoT services will enable it to spend more time implementing advanced data analysis and machine learning that will unlock innovative features to further improve Wemo devices. And with projections that the connected home device market will be valued at over $150 billion by 2024, Belkin has nowhere to go but up.
To learn more, visit https://aws.amazon.com/iot.
Belkin International is a consumer electronics brand focused on connected home products that can be controlled securely and remotely. Through its brands—Linksys, Belkin, Wemo, and Phyn—Belkin offers products that range from smart plugs to wireless routers.
Benefits of AWS
- Reduced development cycle by more than 40%, from 12 to 6.5 months
- Decreased single-command round-trip time by 50%
- Estimated to save 30–40% on operational costs
- Poised to provide support for millions of products
- Receives 24/7 customer support from AWS
AWS Services Used
AWS IoT Core
AWS IoT Core is a managed cloud service that lets connected devices easily and securely interact with cloud applications and other devices. AWS IoT Core can support billions of devices and trillions of messages, and can process and route those messages to AWS endpoints and to other devices reliably and securely.
FreeRTOS is an open source, real-time operating system for microcontrollers that makes small, low-power edge devices easy to program, deploy, secure, connect, and manage. Distributed freely under the MIT open source license, FreeRTOS includes a kernel and a growing set of software libraries suitable for use across industry sectors and applications.
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