What Really is the Internet of Things?

by David Lover | Arrow Systems Integration

We all know that the Internet of Things (IoT) is a really hot topic. We’ve been talking about it for a while and we'll keep talking about it. We know that it’s the next generation of cloud-based connectedness. From the Internet of Information (ie the web), to the Internet of Places (Foursquare, Yelp, etc), to the Internet of People (Linkedin, Facebook, etc), now comes the Internet of Things, where a thing could be a heart rate monitor, or an oil rig sensor, or your toaster, or my garage door opener, or even a baby diaper moisture sensor. IoT is about how you can start building services to monitor those things and take actions involving information dashboards or even trigger other “things” to do something (like turn on a lamp or activate a motor). 

But the average person stops there and says “Yeah, that’d be cool”. Some will start using some consumer based platforms to tie things together. I did a whole blog on my favorite platform called IFTTT (www.ifttt.com). Seems like it has the ability to connect every thing to every other thing. Pretty awesome. We also know that communication vendors are hopping on this bandwagon. For example, Microsoft has their Azure IoT suite and Avaya has their EDP (Engagement Development Platform), etc. Even Arrow SI has IoT Connect.  But what exactly is that? What makes up those kinds of platforms? How do you go from “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” to “I’ve automated some complex processes that have reduced by expenses, increased my revenue, and has separated me from my competition”. A few months ago, I attended a Gartner webinar that explained these IoT systems extremely well. I like their model as it breaks it down into very tangible stages they call Edge, Platform, and Enterprise.

Edge - At the Edge, you have devices and appliances, sensors and actuators, gateways and aggregators. Hopefully every sees the relevance to our company as Arrow Electronics and our Global Components group. This is the section that deals with the tangible real life stuff. As inputs we could be talking about temperature, heart rate, g-force, voltage levels, etc. This stage also get those things ready to be digitally quantified, standardized, aggregated, and ultimately sent to the next step to be processed. Usually the next stage (ie Platform) has programmer interfaces such as web services API’s that edge can use to get it to that next stage. On the way back, as a possible output, the Edge may also be responsible for actually doing something (ie raising a garage door, or sending a SMS text message). In Avaya terms, these kinds of things would interface to an EDP “Connector”, either written by Avaya or a Systems Integrator such as Arrow SI.

Platform - This is typically about data ingestion, data analytics, policy and orchestration, and device/platform management. This is where the real brains are and are what really separate the players in the market. You find that some are very much point solutions that are really good at a very specific area (like Avaya for UC and Collaboration, or bigbelly.com for smart waste/recycling systems). They are fast to deploy and can give you rapid innovation, but you can get yourself into trouble if you find yourself have too many “point solutions”. There are also general purpose IoT platforms. They are really made for integration across multiple solutions, giving you a single platform for any connected device. While they are MUCH more flexible, they are rarely as robust as a point solution (without a LOT of work).

Enterprise – Finally, we have the enterprise. This is where we take action at a business level. It is generally where the data visualization takes place. Maybe literally providing an dashboard interface that lets you see the data from different perspecitives, allowing you to slice and dice the data, finding trends, and ultimately identifying orchestrated policies that can automated within the “Platform”. A lot of time though, this is where we integrate to existing business processes, either by automating them or arming decision making humans with more usably relevant data.

IoT is real. But make sure to recognize “IoT” by other names. When you hear the words “digital”, “smart”, “intelligent” or “connected” in front of another word (such as a smart city, digital oilfield, connected vehicles, smart classrooms, etc), there’s a safe bet that IoT is there, behind the scenes. Every one of the customers I talk to is evaluating their place when it comes to IoT. Sadly, that innovation is rarely happening in the traditional “telecom” department, even though modern communication systems have VERY robust capital p “Platforms” that can be leveraged to do some pretty amazing things. Both Microsoft Lync/SfB and Avaya Aura are leading the charge when it comes to Communications based IoT systems and solutions. Start seriously thinking about where you want to be.

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The thoughts and opinions in these blogs belong to the individual blogger and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of Arrow Systems Integration.