Succeeding in IoT

December 4, 2018

A lot of IoT and Industrial IoT (IIoT) companies, especially those with platforms, call their technology agnostic, and for good reason. As hundreds of platforms, protocols, sensors, devices, clouds, applications and edge approaches shake out, agnostic sounds like an insurance policy against technologies that may lead to end-of-life or be otherwise unsupportable.

Putting in connected systems is analogous to putting elevators into high rise buildings: they are not easy to rip and replace.

Hanging onto proprietary solutions may make sense when companies wish to compete and raise funds to do so, but as the recent announcement by IBM that they are acquiring Red Hat (for $33 Billion) makes clear, open source was not a science experiment twenty years ago – it represented a sea-change for the tech world.

The mandates by Tier One communications service providers, including Verizon and AT&T in the US, to move to Network Function Virtualization (NFV) and offer network infrastructure that runs on any appropriate bare metal server is another big hint that there will not be a future for vendors who only offer proprietary hardware/software solutions, which has thrown big companies like Cisco, Ericsson and others into chaos, and has forced them to likewise acquire software companies and talent in order to comply with their largest customers’ mandates.

Add to this the movement to cloud by enterprises, and the adoption of VM’s versus owned and operated equipment, and we start to see a pattern.

IoT and IIoT came about in the middle of this upheaval, after a few decades in service as Machine-to-Machine (M2M) and other connected technologies bridging the physical and digital world, for example OnStar for cars. Today, the same car companies who pioneered with OnStar are now offering Waze, and for good reason – it works on every mobile device, whether iOS or Android, and is being now embedded into “moving vehicles” enabled by Over-the-Air (OTA) updates.

Red Hat is expected to bring three things to IBM according to some analysts: the world’s largest portfolio of open source technology, a proven hybrid cloud platform, and huge open source developer community.

Agnostic Technology: Platform, Protocol, and Device

The massively fragmented world of IoT and IIoT bring with it even more complexities to manage, and while engineering software products and platforms knowing in advance they will need to “play well with others” can be daunting, the companies who do invest in ensuring interoperability and access through APIs and SDKs are winning the day.

In the world of connected things, there are a variety of layers required and being agnostic to each is no easy task, nor is it a task one ever really completes, which explains the many non-profit organizations, standards bodies, consortiums and working groups thriving in the space.

Here’s a short list of what agnostic can apply to:

  • Network agnostic: works with any IP transmission and/or edge network, whether Bluetooth, Zigbee, mesh, LoRa, WiFi, cellular, 4G, 5G, narrowband IoT, and more. Different implementations require different access and transport networks, and often a mix of those networks when distributed systems are created.
  • Cloud agnostic: works with public, private and hybrid clouds, multi-clouds, and more, including supporting cloud computing, data storage, applications, analysis, and more.
  • Protocol agnostic: ensuring devices, protocols, and data sets all work together on a common protocol, or with translating brokers, to make communication work; to be protocol agnostic is work with any protocol the customer chooses.
  • Device agnostic: device agnostic means the implementation doesn’t need to be limited to one type of device; again, flexibility is key.
  • Platform agnostic: even agnostic platforms need to work with other platforms (such as Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, PTC, and dozens more; once again, flexibility for the end-buyer is key.

“Flexibility is why we get selected, competing against AWS, Azure and other platforms,” Eric Simone said, CEO at ClearBlade, a fast-growing company based in Austin, Texas, established in 2007. “Many of our customers and partners, especially distributors, looked for years to find the right IoT software platform – for example a large fast food chain for whom one of our distributors provides a cold storage supply chain solution using our software.”

ClearBlade’s products, according to Simone, “are developer friendly and feature fully open APIs and SDKs, industry leading security practices, reusable enterprise grade solutions, device lifecycle management, customizable visualizations, and a future-proof architecture that works in brownfield and greenfield environments equally as well.

“It hasn’t been easy, but we have been able to create a super-flexible platform that can connect to any device and any protocol, securely run in any public or private cloud, is communications network agnostic and thrives in even the most complex ecosystem architectures.”

ClearBlade’s console is pure software, according to Simone, with a secure browser-based application that enables the admin to define business rules, logic and orchestration, visualize and interact with data, update in real-time and adapt to support new applications as businesses figure out how they can extract future value from IoT/IIoT investments.

ClearBlade has proved extreme scalability by utilizing a Cloud Infrastructure to enable the use of one or more large bare metal servers to onboard, grow and connect millions of devices. “We made one million Edge Platform connections requiring only on a high performance server” Simone said.

“The importance of one million Edge Platform connections utilizing a single, in this case Oracle, bare metal server instance translates into an IoT solution that we’ve now confirmed can scale for large enterprises, supporting up to 100 million real-time connected devices, with extreme efficiency.”

“The ClearBlade solution running on Cloud Infrastructure also demonstrated our collective ability to rapidly and horizontally scale, and to securely manage, backup and monitor, supporting important applications including AI, and closed-loop systems for real-time or near-real-time IoT requirements.”

Simone explained that as ClearBlade’s technology has been field hardened and continually evolved, it is now being implemented in large scale deployments, including smart buildings, connected rail, medical device sensor-based systems, and even connected cows.

“Scalability and flexibility are not buzz words for us – they are part of our mission and our DNA,” Simone said. “Would it be easier for us to limit customers’ choices? Definitely. But that’s not the right thing to do as the future is in open, agnostic and interoperable technologies, which is why we are also so involved across the community, with communities, standards bodies, and more.”

IoT communication represents a challenge greater than traditional large-scale cloud solutions due to the demand for a real-time nature of device transparency and low latency direct device communication, the company said. “The tiered cloud to edge architecture we’ve developed is extremely timely given what we are seeing in the real world, including truly real-time applications that multiply the value of connected systems exponentially.

With more automation and more AI, for example, the cost to manage systems comes down, as fewer staff is required. At the same time, however, everything must work including highly resilient private networking, and of course rock-solid security. The challenges getting to this point have been considerable, but the creativity and collaboration makes it exciting. Winning deals doesn’t hurt either.”

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