IoT starts to come home

Over the years, I’ve played around with a few IoT solutions. Sunday, I decided to seriously tackle some outdoor lighting, by replacing one of my light switches with one that can be controlled from the Internet.

372.jpgI looked at a number of solutions and found that there are surprisingly few that will replace a 3-way switch (in fact the only 3-way switch I found was from GE and then I would need a controller…). After looking at my requirements, it appeared I only needed normal light switches and the one I chose was the Belkin Wemo® Light Switch. Fortunately, my house was already wired with switches that looked fairly similar, so my wife was happy with the result.

Thanks to Amazon same day delivery, the new switch was at my house at 6PM on Sunday.

I had it unboxed, wired in and controlled by IFTTT in under an hour. So now I can control when the light go on and off automatically and can turn them on manually from my phone. Not bad… for an hours work.

I have a few more projects that I am planning to do around the house, so I’ll write about those too, as well as anything I learn along the way. An example setting up a dedicated wireless LAN just for the IoT devices (to localize any security issues).

Could Blockchain be at the center of IoT security?

Blockchain can be used for many things… Blockchain technology has the potential to reduce costs, improve product offerings and increase speed for banks, according to a recent report from the Euro Banking Association (EBA). If you’d like a nice overview of blockchains and bitcoin, there’s one on Khan Academy.

Blockchains can be used to keep track of transfers and to ensure that the data collected has gone through a verification process. One of the properties is that the blockchain is a globally distributed database that anyone can add to, but whose history no-one can modify.

This feature could be very valuable for IoT applications where there is data coming in that you would like to both verify and keep for predictive analytics… IBM has been looking at this for a while, since one of the security concerns has been that nefarious data sources could either modify the incoming data or change the data history. Blockchain techniques could make that almost impossible. One of the issues when you have an abundance of data coming into the enterprise is that the length of the chain could expand to the point where maintaining the chain costs more than the data is worth so the processing of the chain would probably need to be outside the IoT sensors/devices themselves. The devices would need to have their own private/public keys though if the validation goes all the way to the edge.

A simple way to think of the block chain for data transactions…

blockchain

Where each block likely contains:

  • A timestamp
  • The hash of the previous block as a reference (except the Genesis Block)
  • A pointer to the data transactions hash
  • The block’s own hash
  • The Merkle Root – a hash of all the hashes in the block

This is definitely quite a bit of security but when needed it should be sufficient…

New approach to power #IoT

plug in economyOne of the great things about Moore’s law that is sometimes overlooked is that even though computing capabilities have expanded at a tremendous rate, the power consumption for those same transistors that are being packed together have gone down at an even faster rate.

This announcement from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign of the demonstration of a high-performance 3D micro-battery suitable for large-scale, on-chip integration may have long-lasting impact to the Internet of Things.

“Due to the complexity of 3D electrodes, it is generally difficult to realize such batteries, let alone the possibility of on-chip integration and scaling. In this project, we developed an effective method to make high-performance 3D lithium-ion microbatteries using processes that are highly compatible with the fabrication of microelectronics,” – Hailong Ning, a MatSE graduate student

If this technology can be produced reliably, I’d expect it to show up in many ways quickly, since access to a power source is critical to any sensing or distributed computing approach, allowing for greater flexibility in where to place ‘things’. Having the manufacturing process compatible with the chip making process should make for rapid adoption.

Expect more from IoT

planningRecently there was a post in Forbes titled In Search of the True Value in The Internet of Things. This post narrowed down the value statement to:

The real value lies in being able to capture and analyze the data that comes from the sensors at the endpoints of IoT — and that needs to be the few nuggets of data that are of material value to the business.

It does make me wonder if the author overlooked the new business model possibilities. It is not just about capturing and analyzing, it also include the action taken by which actors for the company and its entire ecosystem. As everything ‘gets smarter’ there should be more options available and more time to execute those options. At the same time we see larger and more powerful arrays of processors, we also see them moving into more places and processes.

One of the great questions that remains is what should ‘we’ be doing differently now that computing’s impact moves both deeper and broader into the business?

The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow. -William Pollard

I survived my first day at SAP #SapphireNow

The one area that both surprised and interested me most on the first day had little to do with the analytics or IoT space (although I did have some interesting discussions in those areas too). It was the SAP approach to their on-line store.

They have had many on-line stores in the past but now they are taking a different more ‘digital’ approach that is focused on selling direct to the consumer. This will change the relationship with the user and the enterprise based on consumption. This could disrupt their traditional buyer, the SAP sales force as well as their partners that perform system integration and consulting. It will be interesting to see if this level of change can take place without too much disruption.

By selling tools like Lumira with a free version, then a low friction purchase option with a credit card a business could easily see this tool enter into its portfolio of resources without their knowledge. They have implemented the purchase process so that if a feature of a premium version is needed you are dropped into the store. Anyone who has done on-line gaming recently has likely run into this behavior. This kind of stealth selling is inevitable and will accelerate the kind of shadow IT has been discussed for years.

I asked the people at the booth about what happens when someone buys it on their own version and the company purchases a master agreement. The answers varied a bit but the individual has a choice to roll into the agreement or continue to pay on their own. Look to the terms and conditions (that no one reads typically) for the details.

There is also the concern about who will support anything that gets created once the business becomes addicted. Everyone likely remembers the years of Excel Hell. Hopefully that will not happen but I am still checking into how change management elements can be put in place for end user developed elements.

My greatest concerns is that the traditional command and control IT organization will be very frustrated by this, while the digital purists will be confused by the resistance – it may be just outside their contextual understanding. SAP stated they will be opening these capabilities up for 3rd parties to sell their capabilities and that will have its own problems. Service providers usually sell apps as a mechanism to facilitate up-sell into consulting and integration. SAP is trying to ensure what gets into the store is valuable on its own. Some of the service providers will likely have a hard time understanding these implications as well.

It was stated (many times) in the first day that business models are changing and SAP seems to be doing its part to be disruptive, even if most of its customers haven’t internalized the implications.

And not Or

and not or (logic)I was in an exchange the other day with some folks talking about their perspective that all companies need to be using cloud computing. I agree, but my view is slightly different. My perspective is that depending on the company’s size, needs and applications they will likely continue to have in house systems. It’s not a choice between things, but a choice among things and an acceptance of the way things are and one answer doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. You can’t look at it as: clouds the answer, now what’s the question?

Mobile computing is similar. It is the future interface of the enterprise, not really something special anymore. Embracing mobile devices and cloud computing will have a game changing effect, but it is not about the infrastructure but what we do with them and people want to do those things everywhere.

There are a number of other trends taking place like the IoT that are also shifting how organizations think about computing. It is interesting how this term is changing and how various organizations are trying to name it. It used to be ubiquitous computing, some call it ambient computing, but most still use the Internet of Things.

In any case the aggregation of sensors, devices, intelligence, and agents will shift how organizations generate value and shift IT to focus on systems of action.

Internet of Things Units Installed Base by Category (in Millions)

 Category 2013 2014 2015 2020
Automotive 96.0 189.6 372.3 3,511.1
Consumer 1,842.1 2,244.5 2.874.9 13,172.5
Generic Business 395.2 479.4 623.9 5,158.6
Vertical Business 698.7 836.5 1,009.4 3,164.4
Grand Total 3,032.0 3,750.0 4,880.6 25,006.6

Source: Gartner (November 2014)

Many still look at these opportunities primarily from an infrastructure perspective, but I definitely do not. It is about the business and the hardware side is a small (but necessary) part. Organizations that will compete effectively in the coming years are going to shift their thinking to “and” and not “or” foundation. It is not all about IT, but IT has a role in enabling this flexibility.

By the way the output of the And not Or logic circuit illustration is always a one –> true.

Exponential growth and Earth Day

earthdayOn this Earth Day, there is little doubt that we are living in an exponential society as opposed to linear one. Change is happening so rapidly and broadly that it challenges our traditional (linear) way of thinking. Technology’s ability to enable change in other industries has been discussed by many over the years, but since the disruptions can be so insidious, they can still surprise us. The number and breadth of the change we’re seeing (or that’s happening behind the scenes that we’re not aware of) is staggering.

Whether it is the growth of computing capabilities, data storage or even gene sequencing (as examples), it isn’t the growth in one area where the impact is felt. It is the change in the surrounding environment where those skills can also be applied that offer the greatest surprises. Like using the understanding of genetics to clone the long extinct Woolly Mammoth.

There are many ways that IT can help with efficiency in the world around us, by providing better measurement, analytics, visibility and control to how energy is being consumed and waste produced. I had a post previously that discussed the various levels where sustainability change can take place– even within a data center. The whole Green IT movement reinforces this perspective on using the power of IT to be more efficient thought it could still be expanded to view the problem holistically, since it needs to address more than just green data centers.

Some more references to areas of exponential growth:

And if these are the secondary effects, the tertiary effects to industries like insurance, transportation, law are not close to being understood, in my opinion.

Where do you think we’ll see the impact of these capabilities? Will that make our planet a better place?