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IBM may have dithered with the wrong initial strategy when creating a business model for cloud computing, but it’s tackling the internet of things aggressively. On Wednesday it launched a new platform for building IoT-related apps. The platform is called IoT Foundation and the idea really sounds like a data escrow in the cloud where you can keep information and then ship it out to trusted parties as needed.
(I am irked at IBM for trying to co-opt IoT Foundation as a legit name for a product. It’s like calling your NoSQL data store Big Data Platform or perhaps your cloud storage product Simple Storage Service.)
The IoT Foundation product is part of IBM’s Bluemix platform as a service, which in turn runs on IBM’s SoftLayer cloud computing platform. For those not versed in cloud architecture, the Bluemix platform is IBM’s developer-friendly cloud comparing to Amazon’s Web Services. And think of the IoT Foundation as essentially a service to send device data and then later access that data for use in other business applications.
So software running on your connected device authenticates the device data, encrypts it and sends it to an Informix database on Bluemix where it can then be linked to other services and applications via application programming interfaces. Developers also have a way to access and control the device via APIs, which means that if given permission, services can control what a device can do even if they didn’t manufacture the product.
This might be useful if you are a washing machine maker and want to grant control to a utility to let it control appliances during a demand-response event. The utility can get access to the APIs to control the washer as well as permission from the washer’s maker and/or owner. All of that negotiation is written in software that’s mediated over the IoT Foundation platform.
IBM will form a partner program for the IoT Foundation, along with a set of certified instructions, or “recipes,” for connecting devices, sensors and gateways from a variety of its partners. The partners are expected to include [company]ARM[/company], B&B Electronics, Elecsys, [company]Intel[/company], Multi-Tech Systems and [company]Texas Instruments[/company].
It sounds remarkably similar to what [company]Philips[/company] has built with [company]Salesforce.com[/company] for gathering and accessing medical monitoring and patient data. Michael Curry, VP, IoT product development with [company]IBM[/company] envisions developers being able to tie device data to services such as Twilio (for voice calls), IBM’s Watson (for cognitive computing), and more.
In this way it’s a bit different from many of the other platforms out there, that exist primarily as a way to help companies manage the process of getting devices online, storing the data and servicing those devices. While you can perform some of these functions with IoT Foundation, this is about creating a way to perform constant negotiations for data and device access in a flexible and scalable way.
That makes sense for the internet of things where the relationships between devices, their owners, the device manufacturers and service providers will be so complex that it will make sense to manage them in software as opposed to one-off contracts and physical access. IBM will offer this on a pay-as-you-go model, although pricing is not yet announced. Curry said it will be based on how chatty the devices are as opposed to the number of them.
IoT Foundation is only part of IBM’s offerings around the internet of things. It’s a leader with the MQTT protocol that is used as a messaging layer between many devices, and has also contributed a graphical user interface called Node.red that helps people program interactions between devices visually. It’s even investigating using the blockchain technology that’s behind Bitcoin as part of a device-to-device mesh network, which IBM’s Paul Brody will actually discuss at our Structure Connect event next week.
Curry points out that while, IoT Foundation is one platform, it’s only part of the overall architecture for the internet of things, which will require mesh networking at the edge, gateways near the edge and even significant intelligence in that gateway as well as cloud back-ends and services between clouds. I actually want to delve more into IBM’s gateway plans, because it seems every major IT vendor has an internet of things gateway to go along with their cloud and it seems a great place for some kind of vendor lock-in and control.