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Summary:

IBM has a new box for the internet of things, but it’s the MQTT protocol inside that box that’s worth a long look. The protocol could become the messaging layer for the internet of things.

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IBM may be in talks to sell off its server division, but it’s not abandoning hardware just yet. Instead, Big Blue is introducing an appliance for the internet of things, as well as a new use case for an existing protocol optimized for delivering messages between sensors.

IBM considers both efforts part of its Smarter Planet and Mobile First strategies. The box is called the IBM MessageSight, and it combines the ability to process a lot of information in real time — which experts believe the internet of things will need. The logic is that billions of sensors sending trillions of bits will need some type of special equipment to process the incoming information in real-time and send instructions back to a human or a device.

IBM uses the example of the hundreds of sensors in your car recognizing a problem, turning on your check engine light, and then notifying the dealer so it can do remote diagnostics. As someone who is heading to the dealer tomorrow for a check engine light, this example caught my eye. Yet, I’m not sold on the need for a special box over more intelligence at the sensor, or perhaps a mesh network with nominal “intelligence.”

The internet of things exaflood is coming!

floodThe idea is compelling, but it also grossly simplifies the flow of data inside the internet of things. For example, it assumes all sensor data must be processed in “real time.” It also assumes all the data must be processed. Both of these are untrue, especially in the early days of the internet of things. But IBM is looking ahead. From its release on the MessageSight appliance:

Over the next 15 years, the number of machines and sensors connected to the Internet will explode. According to IMS Research, there will be more than 22 billion web-connected devices by 2020. These new devices will generate more 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data every day, while every hour enough information is consumed by Internet traffic to fill seven million DVDs.

It’s the same exaflood of data that telephone companies were so fearful of a decade ago. And like the telephone companies, IBM is hoping to cash in on these fears — with its box. IBM’s appliance can totally stand up to this tsunami of information, or so goes the pitch. A release from Big Blue noted that the machine can handle up to 1 million concurrent sensors and can scale to manage up to 13 million messages per second.

The new protocol for the internet of things?

Inside this magic data-defying box will be a protocol called MQTT (Message Queuing Telemetry Transport), which the OASIS standards organization recently proposed for the internet of things. The standard, which is backed by Kaazing, Red Hat, TIBCO, Cisco and IBM, is a lightweight messaging transport system for communication in machine to machine and mobile environments.

The idea is that such a lightweight protocol will allow sensors to communicate wirelessly without needing massive batteries to support a fully functional wireless radio. I’m unclear on what radio protocol one might use, but have reached out with questions. As for MQTT, it’s already in use for satellite transmissions and in medical and industrial settings where low-bandwidth communications are essential.

IBM said “sensors can use MQTT to send messages wirelessly using 10 times less battery power and 93 times faster than before, making it possible for a sensor to send real time updates that can be acted upon immediately.” IBM is positioning MQTT as the same enabler for the internet of things, as HTTP was for the web. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s worth watching to see how the standard evolves.

As for IBM’s appliance, I’m pretty sure people can build connected homes, buildings and possible cities without it, but IBM’s marketing will snag customers, especially as part of an overarching integrated smarter cities deployment.

Updated at 11:41 PT: This story was updated to clarify that the MQTT protocol is new for use in the internet of things. The protocol itself is not new.

  1. Hi Stacey – I am not sure I agree that the MQTT protocol is “new for use in the internet of things”. MQTT has been used for all sorts of devices for a long time. IoT doesn’t just mean sensors and MQTT is a great lightweight protocol.

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  2. Paul Fremantle Tuesday, April 30, 2013

    The MQTT protocol is not “new for IoT use” either. The Arduino client library for MQTT has been on Github for four years: https://github.com/knolleary/pubsubclient/tags

    Arduino is a small IoT device based on open source hardware designs.

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  3. If there is one thing I’ve learned during the computing “rEvolution”, no one ever was fired for buying IBM.

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    1. Eddie, That use to be true. It was replaced by Microsoft. Soon to be replaced by …???

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  4. When two or more engineers are gathered together, they will create a new protocol.

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  5. Actually it was exactly two engineers Andy & Arlen :-) They were locked in a room for 3 months. And there was no committee, no multi-vendor consortia, no agendas. Which is probably why it is brilliant, tight and just 42 pages with only minor clarification updates since the original release.

    MQTT was so far ahead of its time, it may as well be new, exhibit #A being Futurist Bruce Sterling wrote about it yesterday @Wired. Facebook Messenger using it to efficiently scale their mobile community to 680M users projected to hit 1B w/in year isn’t shabby either. And is being used to retrofit M2M communities that are struggling with more recent heavier (“bloatier”?) protocols.

    MQTT vs HTTPS on Android 3G MQTT is 93x faster throughput, 11x less battery to send, 170x less battery to receive, 1/2 power to keep connection, and 8x less network overhead. On fast network here at IBM we’re doing 50µs end-to-end, app-to-app messaging with MQTT and the new appliance. Open standard, open source. And the open source isn’t some college kids contribution. IBM has published all their MQTT C, Java and JavaScript source code on eclipse.org/paho and continues to contribute regular updates.

    if I sound enthusiastic, it is because I am

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  6. Argumentation with the Head of IoT at IBM about MQTT, and he gets…….

    http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=108418&item=239593910&type=member&commentID=138129312&trk=hb_ntf_COMMENTED_ON_GROUP_DISCUSSION_YOU_LIKED#commentID_138129312

    We are working to make XMPP the future of IoT as well as Internet.
    https://twitter.com/clayster_

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