The Vorwerk case at a glance
- Concept of the Thermomix platform: Countless networked IoT devices and integration of web services
- Conception of the architecture on the basis of self-contained systems (SCSs) and microservices
- Efficiency and future-proof design through independent development teams whose software communicates via web standards
- In addition to the concept, INNOQ had responsibility for central tasks, such as encrypted firmware updates
- Outstanding system scalability – necessary due to the worldwide success
- Rollout in China with particular challenges, under the overall lead of INNOQ
The Thermomix manufacturers at Vorwerk have long been INNOQ customers. But for the further development of the recipe platform Cookidoo®, the challenge was immense. Millions of IoT devices had to be networked, different operational units connected organizationally and technically, and contents prepared in a user-friendly manner. Other changes included encrypted operating system updates for the Thermomix, secure authentication, and high user loads. The existing platform had to be completely re-thought.
While many companies are just getting started in the age of digitalization, some are already knee-deep in the digital success story. They are expending great effort to transfer their core business or individual products into the digital age.
The rare ones, however, are those companies that are achieving not just a transformation of what already exists, but are creating completely new products that are fundamentally changing people’s entire spheres of living and ways of doing things.
One of these success stories, with a return worth millions, has been written by Vorwerk. The Thermomix®️ TM5™️ has delighted millions of households worldwide. As a pioneer in the digital kitchen, the device has triggered an emotional debate about progress and the benefit of IoT devices in the everyday world of the end customer. At the latest, however, since the product has found a home in numerous starred restaurants, it has become clear that Vorwerk has made a lasting impact on cooking.
A great portion of the success of the smart kitchen pro is undeniably linked to the software platform, which has built a bridge to the everyday lives of the users. The platform has changed nutritional habits – with recipes, inspiration, organization, and a new degree of variety. On a technical level, the platform works in the background to provide complex coordination of millions of IoT devices in many parts of the world.
Cloud concept for the Thermomix TM6
The new Thermomix device had to take full advantage of the cloud connection. The digital recipe portal Cookidoo is integrated directly into the display, providing direct access to more than 40,000 international recipes: Vorwerk wanted to take the success guaranty to a new level.
INNOQ was there from the very beginning. In the concept phase for the overall system, we created different teams to test competing architecture approaches for development of a prototype. This helped us to narrow down the requirements for scalability, insulation, and robustness. In the end, we chose a modular concept with self-contained systems (SCSs) and microservices. This enables different operational units to work independently of one another: The architecture enables the individual components to communicate with one another, but they can be updated autonomously. One advantage provided by this design is the capability for parallel and thus faster feature development. In addition, it increases reliability: For instance, if there is a problem with the search function, the customers can still purchase and view additional subscriptions – instead of possibly giving up in frustration because the entire system has been crippled by a search error. The heart of this approach is thus the independence of the teams and their services, ensuring optimized performance for new platform features over the long term. This provides a great advantage compared to rapid development approaches, which do provide results quickly, but after just a short time experience difficulties in further development.
For the Vorwerk platform, that means that one or more technical SCSs are assigned to each domain. On the macro-architectural level, this system is constrained by cross-functional principles, but within the boundaries of the individual system, it is open for independent technological development.
Important core qualities of the SCS approach are:
- Scalability of the individual SCS
- Independence in the development of other SCSs
- Insulation from the errors of other SCSs
- Freedom of implementation on the micro-architecture level
- Simplicity, maintainability, replaceability
As domain architects, we had the important role here of requesting the technical concepts, but also of mediator between the individual operational units and the teams. The core tasks were technical analysis of technical features, quality analysis of deliveries from service providers, and problem analysis. Both INNOQ Germany and INNOQ Switzerland participated in the project.
The development teams can work very independently of one another; the breakdown depends on technical criteria. We achieve this through self-contained systems (SCSs): The teams make extensively independent technical decisions, though the technical framework is prescribed.
We advised Vorwerk to implement data synchronization using HTTP feeds instead of an event architecture. The clear advantage is that no central storage monolith is needed. The overhead is correspondingly small. Outages of individual data feeds are restricted to those feeds and do not endanger the functioning of the overall system.
To standardize the display on tablets, smartphones, and Thermomix screens, we use a central pattern library. This creates clear specifications for the various teams and reinforces the overall concept of independent development in the different operational units. From the very beginning, it was clear that the focus would be on mobile devices. The important thing was not responsive design, but above all performance: Even weaker devices should be able to render the contents without any problem. By simplifying our front end implementation, we were able to achieve a distinct improvement in the perceived speed for end users.
- Loosely linked hypermedia communication via HTTP
- Asynchronous data transfer among the SCSs using HTTP feeds
- Re-integration of the distributed SCSs on the UI level using state-of-the-art front end technologies
- Authentication using Oauth2 / OpenID Connect
Transparency and cultural change
However, it is not just technical aspects that determine the success of such a comprehensive project. Just as important are a deep understanding of the customer and its business model, as well as an open culture.
An important pillar of the overall project was therefore open and direct communication among the different development teams. When the development of a feature revealed interdependencies between systems, it was only natural that they be resolved directly by those teams. Together we could establish transparency as the “default” for development. It was standard procedure to make code and documentation available to all project members, so they could be used by everyone, in order to share inspiration and knowledge. The mutual access to and use of the documentation also made it possible to call the status quo into question and thus reveal potential for improvement on a continuing basis. The tools and methods we chose provided a clear framework, so that these improvements could be incorporated step by step.
Large IoT platform with encrypted updates
A particularly difficult challenge in this project was simultaneously one of the core tasks: to start at zero to create a new communications platform for the latest device generation of the Thermomix. Building this Kubernetes-based IoT platform included provision of encrypted operating system updates and certificate-based authentication of the end users vis-a-vis the platform. No easy task!
Therefore, we are pleased that we, in addition to the architecture planning, were also given these two responsibilities within the project. Together with the customer, our architects and developers developed a sophisticated communications concept on the basis of mutual TLS authentication and a new client/server certificate infrastructure.
As soon as devices have gone through this authentication process, they can download the appropriate firmware updates and communicate with the rest of the platform. With its great knowhow, the team supported the customer in developing a concept for high-performance yet secure delivery of the updates to the customers’ devices.
Scaling and export to China
In the end, its intensive worldwide use shows that the solution works. The successful export to China constitutes the acid test for the system and confirms the robustness of the architecture.
Our selected architecture approach, which is based on self-contained systems, helped us greatly. Thanks to it, some new individual components with special requirements were developed for China, while others were transferred as is. The vertical separation and standardized communication among the applications of different operational units make it possible.