If You Want IoT, You Need the Cloud
Experts at Boston's Connected Cloud Summit argue that the cloud and the Internet of Things are necessarily intertwined.
BOSTON – The Connected Cloud Summit held here two weeks ago could easily have been called "The Internet of Things Connectivity Summit," since most of the discussion (and exhibitors) involved Internet of Things technology and connectivity.
Just as much of it, however, implicated cloud computing – and the theme for the day involved the necessary interconnectedness between the two.
"The Internet of Things brings home technology," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director of local cloud consultancy THINKstrategies and the event's emcee, in his opening address to Summit attendees.
The sentiment is true in more ways than one. For one thing, the Internet of Things has had an obvious impact on consumer markets. For years, it has played a starring role at CES – arguably the world's premier consumer electronics tradeshow. Thermostats, alarm clocks, automobiles, refrigerators, washing machines, toasters, and other appliances and objects galore – all interconnected via Wi-Fi, all communicating with each other and with the consumer.
And yet IoT transcends the world of B2C, and into that of B2B. Presenters at the Summit focused heavily on what they call "the Industrial Internet of Things." SCADA and other industrial control systems, "smart" office buildings, and other enterprise applications of IoT technology are gaining widespread adoption.
Describing the Internet of Things as "a system of systems," IBM described this world of IoT in even grander terms in a 2010 video:
We've seen the emergence of a kind of global data field: the planet itself. Natural systems, human systems, physical objects have always generated an enormous amount of data, but we didn't used to be able to hear it, to see it, to capture it. Now we can because all of this stuff is now instrumented – and it's all interconnected so we can actually have access to it. So, in effect, the planet has grown a central nervous system.
Naturally, this will mean an explosion in the sum total of connected devices as more non-traditional devices gain connectivity. With that brings not only network infrastructure problems but also exponentially more data to manage.
This is where cloud computing comes in.
"The easiest place to start is energy management [and] SaaS…looking at the utilization of energy" says Ken Carroll, VP of Software Platforms Digital Services for Schneider Electric, a company that has long been involved with the Internet of Things. "We're gathering a lot of data from…meters[,] presenting data in a manner that helps people understand that utilization of energy.
Ruben Melo, business systems manager for New England Biolabs, provided a more concrete example for Summit attendees, describing a new product his company launched using IoT technologies.
"We have these freezers," said Melo, describing his organization's thought process. "Since our customer information is already on the cloud, could we possibly [integrate our data and our product]?"
The result: Internet-connected, inventory-as-a-service freezers that have replaced the company's salesforce.
"Identify yourself, open the door, remove your items, scan them out, walk away," says Melo in describing the solution. "[It] solves logistics issues; it's able to actually monitor inventory and...manage products inside the freezer."
"Once [the] cloud matures, it will actually be the enabling technology…to make IoT happen," averred Peter Utzschneider, VP of Product Development at Oracle, in his inaugural keynote at the Summit. "There will be so many devices connected and so much infrastructure that there's no way this is going to be done in an on-premises environment."
This is the second way Kaplan's observation hits the mark. The Internet of Things must, perforce, bear with it greater cloud proliferation. The IoT enterprise cannot afford to not embrace the cloud as an integral part of its network infrastructure. In this way, the Internet of Things may be just the kick in the pants conservative, nephophobic companies need to invest in a cloud (or even multicloud) solution.
And, indeed, what shouldn't they? "The power of all public clouds," says Bobby Patrick, Hewlett-Packard's chief of cloud carketing, "exceeds the power of Japan."
"Compute has been commoditized now," observed Joe Salvo, manager of General Electric's Complex Systems Engineering Laboratory and founding director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, in an executive roundtable session on the present state and future opportunities of IoT. "No one cares about the servers anymore – unless you're running a business that's actually running the servers[;]everyone else just wants to get it done."
The cloud is further necessary for IoT management simply to keep track of the devices themselves, if only for security purposes.
"As these things scale up, everything just becomes harder and harder," Stephen Dodson, CTO of Prelert, told Summit attendees."So you've got all these devices, all these data…What's going on?"
Patrick offered his own answer, describing his number-one key principle on powering IoT: "[Y]ou have to have distributed compute and storage everywhere[,] for latency [and] how fast information comes back to you."
Salvo puts it another way: "[L]ow-level knowledge is basically free." Therefore, Salvo argues, the information focus for the enterprise is no longer on the actual data points themselves but rather on access and networking.
Brendan O'Brien, co-founder and chief architect of Aria Systems, painted a vivid picture for attendees in response to Salvo's observations, describing a future hypothetical in which he's traveling: "I have a wearable and…I'm in Nashville, and I have an irregular heartbeat[.]"
O'Brien envisions his wearable device working together with public systems to call an ambulance while notifying the local hospital, his insurance company, and his primary care doctor – potentially life-saving measures that would be impossible without the cloud.
"We are in the infancy of approaching [systems] convergence," says O'Brien.
Or, perhaps, the convergence is already here. Utzschneider told his audience that whereas the tech sector has traditionally dealt with one major change at a time over the past twenty years, now the significant changes are hitting the industry concurrently, with the confluence of the respective advents of cloud computing and IoT being no exception.
"I think the nexus of cloud and IoT is...going to become clearer over time," says Utzschneider. "If you combine them together, you see an incredible amount of change—and opportunity."
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.