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OST helps grill maker migrate connected products

Traeger Grills asked a managed service provider to migrate its IoT-enabled grillers to a new cloud platform. The four-month transition has Traeger cooking with AWS.

The IoT and connected products market is experiencing a wave of migration as customers jettison early IoT platforms for public cloud offerings that offer greater scale, cost-efficiency and quicker time to market.

OST, a managed service provider based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has encountered this shift firsthand. Four years ago, OST's IoT business was almost entirely greenfield projects, said Aaron Kamphuis, practice manager and connected products lead at OST. There were no migration efforts.

"Now, it is shifting almost to 50-50," he said. "IoT is growing up finally and companies are realizing they need to make a strategic shift. They are going for it."

Traeger Grills, a manufacturer of wood pellet grills based in Salt Lake City, provides a case in point. The company offers Wi-Fi-enabled grills that let barbeque enthusiasts adjust a grill's cooking temperature and monitor food temperatures from a smartphone. Traeger originally used Xively as its IoT platform but ran into limitations. Although Traeger was initially successful with Xively, which it adopted in 2016, the company recognized its growing grill sales would eventually "push the platform beyond what it was able to do," according to Kamphuis. In addition, Xively revealed its intention to sunset the IoT platform Traeger was using. Market research firm Statista pegs pellet grills as the fastest growing category in the griller/smoker market.

Aaron KamphuisAaron Kamphuis

Traeger turned to OST for migration help, having previously hired the MSP for an integration project. That initiative involved linking Traeger Grills to Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant for remote control. The migration effort, however, would be much broader in scope, involving hundreds of thousands of connected grills -- and Traeger's standing among customers.

A botched migration could end up bricking thousands of grills, Kamphuis noted. "You risk a massive reputation hit," he said.

Time and cost objectives

The Traeger project called for a smooth migration, but one that was also budget-conscious and expeditious. OST partnered with AWS, and its IoT platform, to create a plan that met the customer's budgetary objective and established what Kamphuis described as a "very aggressive time goal."

The project kicked off in October 2019. OST created a new connected products architecture and rebuilt all the integrations on the back end with AWS. The platform changeover to AWS IoT went live in early January 2020.

The four-month migration could easily have taken twice as long had OST started from scratch, Kamphuis explained. He said OST was able to commit to the faster schedule due to previous migration experience and its intellectual property. As for the latter, the company offers IoT Foundation, an AWS IoT starter kit that aims to accelerate migration.

IoT is growing up finally and companies are realizing they need to make a strategic shift.
Aaron KamphuisPractice manager and connected products lead, OST

Kamphuis also cited the ability to "fully leverage the AWS tech stack." That stack includes AWS IoT Core, a managed cloud service that enables connected devices to interact with cloud applications and other devices. AWS IoT Core includes a message broker that handles connections and low-latency messaging using the MQTT protocol.

AWS IoT Core also provides a software development kit for connecting devices and a Device Gateway for managing device connection among other features.

With the new IoT platform in place, Traeger began the process of migrating customers to AWS. This task required a firmware update. Grill owners were notified via their grills' user interface, an LCD screen, that the update was needed and guided through the process. The firmware phase had to be coordinated with the release of a mobile app update, Kamphuis added.

Most customers' grills have made the transition; although, some still in winter storage have yet to make the switch.

Serverless focus

Other Amazon services involved in the Traeger IoT setup include Simple Storage Service for inexpensive data storage, Amazon Kinesis for processing big data, the Amazon DynamoDB database and the AWS Lambda serverless computing platform. The serverless aspect was important for the Traeger project.

"Our team focused on serverless," Kamphuis said, noting that Traeger runs a lean operation. The idea was to push off as many platform management chores as possible to AWS. Rather than manage servers, Traeger can concentrate on application logic, analytics and user experience.

"It really allows them to focus on what is important," Kamphuis said of the serverless approach.

Traeger is also taking advantage of AWS' big data stack. The company uses the data collected when customers interact with their Traeger devices to inform firmware updates, for example. Those updates "will boost the performance of existing and new products," Kamphuis said.

Economies of scale

Other AWS migration benefits include the ability to scale IoT deployments in the cloud and more favorable licensing costs. AWS bases licensing costs on the amount of messaging a company is using. As a result, "pricing scales upwards as a company scales in both size and success to a more favorable economic model," Kamphuis noted.

AWS' licensing approach lets its customers have a much lower upfront cost, making device integration much more manageable from an economic standpoint, he said. Price breaks are another factor. On May 4, AWS unveiled a 90%-plus price reduction on a feature, Device Jobs, that lets customers trigger remote actions on connected IoT devices.

In addition, the cloud gives Traeger ability to push new features to customers much more quickly, Kamphuis said.

"They are already reaping the benefits of being on AWS," he added. "They are just moving so fast."

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