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What Does IoT all mean?

The number of articles about the Internet of Things [IoT], Machine-to-Machine communication [M2M], the Industrial Internet, the Internet of Everything [IoE] and the like have been increasing since I wrote my post introducing my IoT mindmap almost a year ago. I learn from some of them, some I nod sagely in agreement, and others cause me to scratch my head in confusion. One in particular this last week fell in that last category, when they claimed that all the terms listed here all mean the same thing.

From my reading, briefings and research over the past year, I've come to a different conclusion. The following definitions are my opinion. I can't say that any authority has certified these definitions. I believe them to be accurate, and if any vendor with an interest in any of these definitions strongly agree or disagree, I would be very much interested in talking with you.

Types

The first thing to be considered is Machine-to-Machine communication. M2M is really just one of four types of interchanges that occur over the Internet, intranets and any command, control, communication, computing or intelligence network. The other types are Human-to-Machine [H2M], Human-to-Human [H2H] and Machine-to-Human [M2H]. H2M and H2H interchanges have been around since the beginning of ARPAnet, which evolved to become the Internet. From the many different protocols at the beginning, such as FTP and Gopher [among many more], two have come to dominate Internet traffic:

  • simple mail transfer protocol [SMTP] at the heart of email, and
  • hypertext transfer protocol [HTTP] at the heart of the world wide web [WWW or Web].

Every transaction made using a computer: online transaction process [OLTP] electronic data interchange [EDI], and eCommerce; every purchase you make at your favorite web store, is an example of H2M.

Of course, starting with email [still the dominant form of communication over the Internet and for businesses and individuals] and expanding to Twiter, Facebook, Waze, Yelp, Foursquare, Yammer, all the various instant messaging networks, voice over Internet protocol [VoIP] and your favorite public or private social network, we have many examples of Internet enabled H2H communication.

These two, H2M and H2H, have become so prevalent, and so important to business, governments and our personal life, that the over-hyped phenomenon "Big Data" was born. But the importance and pervasiveness of M2M, and soon, M2H data will swamp the so-called data tsunami of the past decade. Predictive maintenance, building automation, elastic provisioning, machine logs, software "phoning home" and automated decision support systems are all good examples of direct M2M interchanges where one sensor, device, embedded computer or system has a productive exchange with another such machine, without concurrent human intervention. Self-quantification, gamification, personalized medicine and augmented reality [AR] are all early examples of M2H interchanges, where sensors, devices, embedded computers or system directly provides relevant information to an individual, allowing for better informed decisions.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things was coined in 1999 by Kevin Ashton. Since then, the term has come to mean any device that is connected to the Internet. Most people don't consider computers, routers, edge equipment and other Internet infrastructure hardware to be a "device", and usually exclude such hardware from consideration as a thing that uses that infrastructure. For many, the devices are only smart phones, feature phones and tablets. This has led to predictions by Cisco and GSMA to declare that there will be 30 to 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. However, even these organizations, and most people with whom I speak who have skin in the IoT game, feel that my own prediction of one trillion devices connected to the Internet by 2020 is more likely. These devices span from individual, but connected sensors, to heavy machinery. However, as companies come out with Tweeting diapers, glowing clothing and other such silliness, the Internet of Things is in danger of becoming a fad. So, what is the Internet of Things? To my mind, the Internet of Things comprises any sensor, embedded sensor, embedded computer, component, package, sub-system, systems, or System that is connected to the Internet and intended to have meaningful interchanges with other such items and with humans. The Internet of Things primarily uses M2M and increasingly M2H interchange.

Smarter Planet

The first treatment of the IoT as large, complex system, to which I was exposed was at networking event in 2008… One of those events where IBM was introducing their new initiative for a Smarter Planet. The Smarter Planet brings complex systems such as the Smart Grid, building automation across facilities, water management, traffic management, Smarter Cities and Smarter Farms under one System. One approach and one initiative that raises the IoT to a new level of importance for world governments, global businesses and individuals from the poorest village to the most cosmopolitan city. The Smarter Planet initiatives go beyond IoT, beyond the individual things, to treating all such things, the Internet, the protocols, process and policies as one very large, complex, possibly cognate system.

Industrial Internet

The Industrial Internet is a term coined by General Electric [GE] in 2011. At a very simple level, the Industrial Internet can be thought of connected industrial control systems. But the impact is much more complex, and much more significant. The first thing to be realized is that connected sensors and computing power will be embedded in everything, from robots and conveyor belts on the factory floor, to tractors and irrigation on the farm, from heavy equipment to hand drills, from jet engines to bus fleets; every piece of equipment, everywhere. The Industrial Internet also primarily uses M2M and M2H. While this sounds much like the Internet of Things, the purpose is much different. The Industrial Internet is about changing business processes and making data the new coin of the realm. GE is very serious about the Industrial Internet, and while they don't use the term yet, Sensor Analytics Ecosystems. Data Marketplaces are rapidly becoming core to GEs businesses, as proven by their recent 140 million dollar investment in Pivotal, the new Big Data Platform as a Service [PaaS] by EMC. Another excellent example of the importance of the Industrial Internet comes from Salesforce.com use of The Social Machine by Digi International and its Etherios business unit, in bringing sensor data into customer relationship management [CRM] by allowing sensors embedded in industrial refrigerators, hot tubs, and heavy and light equipment of all types to open SFDC chatter sessions and to file cases.

Internet of Everything

Cisco has recently started two initiatives related to the IoT, the Internet of Everything [IoE] and Fog Computing. IoE seeks to bring together H2H, H2M, M2M and H2H interchanges. On June 19th of this year, Cisco introduced their IoE Value Index [link to PDF]. By bringing together people, processes, data, and things, and with some impressive research to back it up, Cisco feels that the IoE, in 2013, could bring 1.2 Trillion Dollars in added value, and by 2022, 14.4 Trillion dollars in added market value to business around the world. Fog Computing tends more to the infrastructure of the IoE, bringing the concepts of Cloud Computing, such as distributed computing and elastic provisioning, to the edge of the network, with an emphasis on wireless connectivity, streaming data, and heterogeneity.

Industry Overview

While some of the above are corporate initiatives, they each represent important and distinct concepts. In addition to these from IBM, Cisco, GE, EMC and Salesforce.com, there are other initiatives and products, in this sphere, coming from HP, Oracle, SAP, MuleSoft, SnapLogic, Nuance, Splunk, Mocana, Evrythng, Electric Imp, Quirky, reelyActive, Ayla, SmartThings, Withings, Fitbit, Jawbone including BodyMedia, Nike, Basis, Cohda Wireless, AT&T, Verizon, Huawei, Orange, Belkin, DropCam, Gravity Jack, Alcatel-Lucent, and Siemens. Platforms, software, sensor packages and services, are being developed by a wide variety of innovative companies:

These innovative companies, and others, are implementing one or more of these concepts in a variety of ways. As I stated at the beginning, I don't think that these concepts are the same. While the IoT was first named 14 years ago, it is still early days in its implementation. There are many ways that the Internet of Things might evolve, and many missteps that could lead the IoT to be a passing fancy, leaving some important changes in its wake, but never reaching its full potential. I think there is one way, and one way only, that all of the concepts and initiatives will come together and change everything that we do, how we make decisions, how we think about ourselves, how governments make policy, how businesses make money: The Sensor Analytics Ecosystem [SAE]. Here's a tease of a mindmap giving a hint of what I mean by the SAE. Look for my upcoming report "Sensor Analytics as an Ecosystem" and a series of research reports delving into each area introduced therein. The companies listed above are building out parts of the SAE, and will feature heavily in these reports.

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