Can the IoT Succeed Without Universal Connectivity?

Arthur Cole
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The Internet of Things (IoT) is not only a massive undertaking to connect virtually everything around us, and even inside us, to a massive compute and analytics infrastructure, it also calls for a level of integration that is still difficult to comprehend.

Most organizations already struggle with integration within the data center and across distributed architectures and third-party infrastructure. The IoT pushes that challenge to an entirely new level by having to coordinate the data feeds of millions of commercial, industrial and consumer products across the globe. Ideally, nothing less than a universal data format coupled with tightly defined operating environments and middleware will do the trick, but the fact is that the plethora of industry solutions hitting the channel make the possibility remote at best.

Indeed, without a standard protocol enabling the free flow of data from the field to back-end enterprise systems, it is hard to see how developers can effectively implement the necessary connectivity, security and functionality required of the IoT, says CIO Review. This is particularly crucial for applications that rely on real-time performance to capitalize on quickly evolving digital opportunities. The more translating and data conversion that has to take place between the user device, the IoT gateway and data infrastructure on the edge and in centralized facilities, the longer it takes to produce results. And ultimately, this leads to higher capital and operational costs and delayed ROI.

It seems that all we can hope for at this point is a series of cooperative agreements intended to smooth out some of the key integration points in the IoT chain. VMware, for example, is crafting industry alliances with solutions providers like Dell and Deloitte Digital to improve deployment, maintenance and provisioning of IoT environments, in part by bridging the traditional divide between IT and business operations. As noted on IoT Tech, VMware will bring its expertise in areas like device management, security and operational analytics to IoT development platforms such as PTC’s ThingWorx, which can then link up with Dell’s and Deloitte’s infrastructure and management solutions to craft highly specialized, end-to-end solutions.

A key element in IoT integration will be firmware, says eWeek’s Chris Preimesberger, or, more precisely, the language that firmware solutions will use to communicate. To that end, Emerson Network Power is teaming up with Lenovo and software developer OSIsoft to devise a firmware standard that can be used to simplify the deployment of IoT-facing data centers. Based on Emerson’s Redfish solution, the approach incorporates data modeling and schema structure management with a common protocol set that can manage virtually any system inside a data facility. With Emerson providing the basic data center control management and Lenovo offering compatible services, the goal is to provide integration across heterogeneous data environments using OSIsoft’s operational data distribution and integration engine.

Yet another effort underway is Intel’s IoT Solutions Alliance program, which recently added a company called Infiswift that specializes in rapid, seamless integration of disparate hardware and software solutions. The company’s swiftLab solution provides multi-protocol support to integrate data hardware, cloud services and connected devices, while at the same time providing highly targeted data analytics capabilities and visualization. swiftLab is also licensed freely for starter deployments and then converts to a subscription format as the environment scales, making it convenient for smaller and mid-sized organizations to launch pilot projects before ramping up to production environments.

It would be easy to say that broad protocol and language uniformity across an ecosystem as rich and diverse as the IoT is impossible, and perhaps it is. But as we’ve seen with html, http and other near-universal solutions, it can happen if it is necessary for basic functionality. The Web itself would be of little value if it consisted of multiple, disconnected islands of data.

The enterprise, of course, has the ability to push uniformity across its own infrastructure, and even to insist on commonality throughout leased resources on the cloud. But now that it needs to tap into legions of disparate devices in every home, office, manufacturing facility and device on the planet, the time for a universal connectivity and communications solution has arrived.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

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