Torsten Grabs & Colin Miller: Building the Internet of Things
Torsten Grabs & Colin Miller: "There’s a lot of buzz about the “Internet of Things” (IoT) lately, and for good reason. Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg estimates 50 billion devices will be connected to the Web by 2020 (bit.ly/yciS7r [PDF download]). To put this number in perspective, right now there are about 1.5 billion Web-connected PCs and fewer than 1 billion Web-connected phones—50 billion is about seven devices for every human being on the planet! Market research firm IDC in turn estimates that more than 16 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2015 (see Figure 1). Admittedly, some more conservative projections exist as well, but by anyone’s numbers this represents a huge shift in the role of the Internet—from providing information and entertainment to people to supplying the connectivity for an emerging class of device-enabled applications.
The way to look at this is that everybody currently building Web-based applications will be faced with integrating devices and helping to develop new businesses and new business models as a result. In other words, even if you’re not an embedded developer and don’t work in a shop that builds embedded devices, this is a very compelling opportunity for you to evaluate. Your current Microsoft skills will enable you to succeed in the IoT.
Running Analytics over Device Data
“Data has become the new currency,” said Kevin Dallas, general manager of the Windows Embedded team in a recent interview (bit.ly/wb1Td8). Compared with current Internet applications, the IoT is about information generation, management and access. Let’s compare the data characteristics of a typical Internet application today with an IoT application. You and perhaps several million others pay your bills online using a popular mechanism that’s shared by many financial institutions. You log on several times a month, view some pages and submit payment information. All of this is drawn from a traditional database with queries run when you start interacting with the system. The pages you download can be large, but the interactions are very sparse, though they generate valuable information (payment information, personal information updates and so forth) that needs to be retained indefinitely.
Contrast this with an energy management system where there might be 50 million buildings (commercial and residential) providing input. The input is generated by multiple local endpoints inside, for example, a house, with a single aggregated view posted to the back end. That data includes instantaneous usage information that becomes the basis for pricing and billing, and possibly mandatory controls, back to the building. This system involves very frequent interactions with relatively low-value data that’s not necessarily interesting once you compute the current state of the system and possibly the trend data for that endpoint. However, the system needs to be able to respond instantly to situations that potentially threaten it, such as demand surges that can cause grid overload and power outages. In that case, broadcasting the information might reduce energy consumption immediately. Such a system needs to continuously analyze the incoming data and compare trends over time to identify patterns that indicate a higher risk of power outages."