@ThingsExpo Authors: Ed Featherston, Roger Strukhoff, Liz McMillan, Hollis Tibbetts, William Schmarzo

Related Topics: @ThingsExpo, Mobile IoT, Microsoft Cloud, @CloudExpo, @BigDataExpo, @DevOpsSummit

@ThingsExpo: Article

The Rise of Things

The screens in our lives will slowly start to take a back seat to a model of computing that operates off the context we generate

End-user computing devices have followed a trajectory of faster, smaller, and cheaper for several decades: adding better connectivity, more natural interfaces, but largely remaining a device with a screen and human input device. This model is breaking down as computation and connectivity collide with ordinary real-world things. These things often have existing physical methods of interacting with them that we culturally don't want to change or no interface at all.

I've been involved with devices for much of my professional career, starting with television set top boxes at Microsoft for the better part of a decade, then working in mobile as part of the Android team at Google, and most recently in the Internet of Things at Nest Labs before rejoining Microsoft as part of our platform strategy team. In my current role, one of my focus areas has been to think about so called Internet of Things and what that means for the industry, for Microsoft, and for enterprises and consumers.

It's clear to me that the future of computing lies in these things. The screens in our lives will slowly start to take a back seat to a model of computing that operates off of the context that we generate. In this sense, computing will take a much more active role in our lives but at the same time much more invisible. That said there are substantial challenges in getting from where we are today to this future, and I thought I'd survey those problems and potential solutions.

In the broader Internet, we've started to think about connectivity as a given. The pervasiveness of networks and the consolidation of the industry around cellular standards like LTE and wireless standards like 802.11 mean that, for our computing devices, we are almost always connected and the design of applications has shifted from primarily offline to primarily online to match this.

One of the key challenges in the Internet of Things is that it doesn't fit cleanly into this. The existing set of wireless and cellular standards are wholly unsuited for long longevity battery use - they are designed for devices, like our computer or phone, that are always or frequently connected to a power plug.

A door lock is a good example of a real-world device. It isn't connected to a power plug. While one solution could be to change or charge the batteries in your door lock once a month so that it can use Wi-Fi, when you step back and realize that there are hundreds of these devices in the home, it's clear that this would quickly limit our desire to manage more than a handful of these in our houses.

Rethinking then how we connect these devices is one of the key challenges facing the industry. There are a number of efforts to solve this, including new protocols like Zigbee, but the most promising of these are the efforts to create highly efficient variants of existing protocols like 802.11 with 802.11ah or Bluetooth with Bluetooth Low Energy (now branded Bluetooth Smart). These technologies hold the promise to overcome rapid power consumption in these devices.

In many ways, Bluetooth Smart is already here. As part of the Bluetooth 4.0 spec, it has piggybacked its way into many of the latest Bluetooth chipsets and from a software platform perspective (Windows 8, iOS, and Android platforms all include support for it). Given this, it is starting to become prevalent with the latest wave of devices. It also promises multi-year battery life levels of efficiency and provides an abstraction mechanism for exposing data and control through its characteristics and services. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bluetooth Smart move front and center in 2014 as it gains critical mass as a key way of bridging to these real-world things.

The simplicity of these devices implies that what it means to be an application will also change. In this world, applications shift from being something with a user interface that runs on our devices and backed by the cloud to a model where an application analyzes the context provided by potentially a large number of these devices. The application will begin to present itself less on a screen and more in the state changes in the real world. These applications will not run on any one of these devices but between them.

Message Based
One potential model for this that we are experimenting with at Microsoft is a messaging-based approach. You can conceptually think about this as "Twitter for devices" where devices and applications communicate using messages through a message broker. The schema for these messages is well known among the principals in the system, enabling applications and devices to communicate that otherwise have no knowledge of each other.

This is a key advantage because devices in this new world are shifting from being consumption and creation devices to devices that provide context and control. A messaging-based approach allows you to leverage the message stream from one of these devices for multiple applications without correspondingly taxing this device with multiple requests for state. For example, a proximity sensor in your office hallway provides very interesting context for a security application for the building but is equally interesting to an application that uses them to make dynamic climate control decisions. A messaging model enables this with one set of state. It also provides a clean archiving and auditing model, enabling you to look back over this data two years later, for instance, when you want to build an occupancy model for your building across all of its proximity sensors.

The quantity and sensitivity of these devices will also mean that we need to rethink how we manage them and their data streams.

We currently manage an increasingly large number of computing devices in our lives, and while application stores have made it easier for us to install and upgrade applications and operating systems, we still spend a significant amount of time managing our devices.

As we increase the number of devices by an order of magnitude, we won't be able to provide this same level of love and care for every device in our lives. These devices are going to need to be largely autonomous. One of the core challenges of Internet of Things will be building the infrastructure to enable this level of autonomy.

Highly Distributed
Our current conception of devices working with services is largely a two-tier model. For many applications that require precise control, the 200ms latency involved in doing a round-trip from a home in Oklahoma to a data center in Virginia where multiple devices' message streams are combined may be too much. This means that applications that require this level of low latency will need to execute much closer to the edge. That said, there are many applications that will require the computational capacity and flexibility that only a larger public or private cloud data center can provide. One of the key challenges we face is providing a single abstraction for developers such that both these classes of application use the same interfaces and the infrastructure is smart enough to satisfy them transparently.

The data streams involved in the Internet of Things are also typically highly sensitive, either in the context that they provide on us or the sensitivity of the equipment that they control. One of the things we must demand as individuals and enterprises is control on what set of data we send to a centralized public cloud versus retain within systems under our control.

I believe these factors will drive a distributed approach to the Internet of Things, where applications move to the data instead the current direction of all of our data moving to the applications in the public cloud. At Microsoft we are currently experimenting with this hybrid approach, where there are several hierarchical tiers of increasing computation and storage as you go toward the cloud. Applications and data in this model flow between these tiers to the appropriate level that balances computational, latency, and privacy concerns. This distributed approach is also another key reason that an immutable messaging-based approach makes sense - it enables you to replicate these message streams between these tiers in the system while applying permission-based controls to filter them down to the messages you are comfortable sharing with another application or computational tier.

Big Data
One thing that is clear is that the volume of data that is generated from these much more numerous devices will be staggering. For example, capturing all of the data from a single car's lifetime in an enterprise fleet requires upwards of 100GB on a relatively spacious once-a-second resolution. For an enterprise like Avis, which has on the order of 150,000 cars, this means managing nearly 15PB of information over the lifetime of one generation of cars.

As an industry we have established batch algorithms and platforms like map/reduce and Hadoop and newer near real-time platforms like Storm to process these large streams of information - but these still require substantial data science and DevOps investments to operate, which put them out of the reach of smaller organizations. A key challenge is making it easier to run data pipelines that operate on the context these devices generate and building abstractions that make them easier to develop for and to use with existing information worker tools.

First Steps
We are at the very beginning of this transformation and are all still trying to get our heads around the right model that solves the problems in this space. Although I've posed a number of potential solutions in this post, you should take these more as strawmen to start a discussion than any concrete recommendation. I'd love to talk with you if working on any problems in this space - feel free to reach out to me at [email protected] or @timpark on Twitter.

More Stories By Tim Park

Tim Park is Director, Platform Strategy at Microsoft. He helps to set the direction of Microsoft platforms internally with a focus on the startup and open source communities. He has over 15 years of application development experience across client and server from work at Microsoft and two startups (WebTV Networks and Nest Labs).

As global advocate for the startup and open source community within Microsoft, Park evangelizes the product needs of startups and open source communities within Microsoft across client and cloud and help these communities understand what Microsoft has to offer them in terms of platforms, programs, and partnerships

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
We're entering the post-smartphone era, where wearable gadgets from watches and fitness bands to glasses and health aids will power the next technological revolution. With mass adoption of wearable devices comes a new data ecosystem that must be protected. Wearables open new pathways that facilitate the tracking, sharing and storing of consumers’ personal health, location and daily activity data. Consumers have some idea of the data these devices capture, but most don’t realize how revealing and...
A completely new computing platform is on the horizon. They’re called Microservers by some, ARM Servers by others, and sometimes even ARM-based Servers. No matter what you call them, Microservers will have a huge impact on the data center and on server computing in general. Although few people are familiar with Microservers today, their impact will be felt very soon. This is a new category of computing platform that is available today and is predicted to have triple-digit growth rates for some ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MathFreeOn will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MathFreeOn is Software as a Service (SaaS) used in Engineering and Math education. Write scripts and solve math problems online. MathFreeOn provides online courses for beginners or amateurs who have difficulties in writing scripts. In accordance with various mathematical topics, there are more tha...
In past @ThingsExpo presentations, Joseph di Paolantonio has explored how various Internet of Things (IoT) and data management and analytics (DMA) solution spaces will come together as sensor analytics ecosystems. This year, in his session at @ThingsExpo, Joseph di Paolantonio from DataArchon, will be adding the numerous Transportation areas, from autonomous vehicles to “Uber for containers.” While IoT data in any one area of Transportation will have a huge impact in that area, combining sensor...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SoftNet Solutions will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. SoftNet Solutions specializes in Enterprise Solutions for Hadoop and Big Data. It offers customers the most open, robust, and value-conscious portfolio of solutions, services, and tools for the shortest route to success with Big Data. The unique differentiator is the ability to architect and ...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
More and more brands have jumped on the IoT bandwagon. We have an excess of wearables – activity trackers, smartwatches, smart glasses and sneakers, and more that track seemingly endless datapoints. However, most consumers have no idea what “IoT” means. Creating more wearables that track data shouldn't be the aim of brands; delivering meaningful, tangible relevance to their users should be. We're in a period in which the IoT pendulum is still swinging. Initially, it swung toward "smart for smar...
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential Internet of Things Brand by Onalytica in the ‘The Internet of Things Landscape 2015: Top 100 Individuals and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed Twitter conversations around the #IoT debate to uncover the most influential brands and individuals driving the conversation. Onalytica captured data from 56,224 users. The PageRank based methodology they use to extract influencers on a particular topic (tweets mentioning #InternetofThings or #IoT in this ...
In an era of historic innovation fueled by unprecedented access to data and technology, the low cost and risk of entering new markets has leveled the playing field for business. Today, any ambitious innovator can easily introduce a new application or product that can reinvent business models and transform the client experience. In their Day 2 Keynote at 19th Cloud Expo, Mercer Rowe, IBM Vice President of Strategic Alliances, and Raejeanne Skillern, Intel Vice President of Data Center Group and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Niagara Networks will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Niagara Networks offers the highest port-density systems, and the most complete Next-Generation Network Visibility systems including Network Packet Brokers, Bypass Switches, and Network TAPs.
Data is the fuel that drives the machine learning algorithmic engines and ultimately provides the business value. In his session at Cloud Expo, Ed Featherston, a director and senior enterprise architect at Collaborative Consulting, will discuss the key considerations around quality, volume, timeliness, and pedigree that must be dealt with in order to properly fuel that engine.
Virgil consists of an open-source encryption library, which implements Cryptographic Message Syntax (CMS) and Elliptic Curve Integrated Encryption Scheme (ECIES) (including RSA schema), a Key Management API, and a cloud-based Key Management Service (Virgil Keys). The Virgil Keys Service consists of a public key service and a private key escrow service. 

Fact is, enterprises have significant legacy voice infrastructure that’s costly to replace with pure IP solutions. How can we bring this analog infrastructure into our shiny new cloud applications? There are proven methods to bind both legacy voice applications and traditional PSTN audio into cloud-based applications and services at a carrier scale. Some of the most successful implementations leverage WebRTC, WebSockets, SIP and other open source technologies. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Da...
Fifty billion connected devices and still no winning protocols standards. HTTP, WebSockets, MQTT, and CoAP seem to be leading in the IoT protocol race at the moment but many more protocols are getting introduced on a regular basis. Each protocol has its pros and cons depending on the nature of the communications. Does there really need to be only one protocol to rule them all? Of course not. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, walk you through how Oct...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Embotics, the cloud automation company, will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Embotics is the cloud automation company for IT organizations and service providers that need to improve provisioning or enable self-service capabilities. With a relentless focus on delivering a premier user experience and unmatched customer support, Embotics is the fas...
The Internet of Things (IoT), in all its myriad manifestations, has great potential. Much of that potential comes from the evolving data management and analytic (DMA) technologies and processes that allow us to gain insight from all of the IoT data that can be generated and gathered. This potential may never be met as those data sets are tied to specific industry verticals and single markets, with no clear way to use IoT data and sensor analytics to fulfill the hype being given the IoT today.
@ThingsExpo has been named the Top 5 Most Influential M2M Brand by Onalytica in the ‘Machine to Machine: Top 100 Influencers and Brands.' Onalytica analyzed the online debate on M2M by looking at over 85,000 tweets to provide the most influential individuals and brands that drive the discussion. According to Onalytica the "analysis showed a very engaged community with a lot of interactive tweets. The M2M discussion seems to be more fragmented and driven by some of the major brands present in the...
WebRTC has had a real tough three or four years, and so have those working with it. Only a few short years ago, the development world were excited about WebRTC and proclaiming how awesome it was. You might have played with the technology a couple of years ago, only to find the extra infrastructure requirements were painful to implement and poorly documented. This probably left a bitter taste in your mouth, especially when things went wrong.
The Quantified Economy represents the total global addressable market (TAM) for IoT that, according to a recent IDC report, will grow to an unprecedented $1.3 trillion by 2019. With this the third wave of the Internet-global proliferation of connected devices, appliances and sensors is poised to take off in 2016. In his session at @ThingsExpo, David McLauchlan, CEO and co-founder of Buddy Platform, discussed how the ability to access and analyze the massive volume of streaming data from millio...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Pulzze Systems will exhibit at the 19th International Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 1–3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Pulzze Systems, Inc. provides infrastructure products for the Internet of Things to enable any connected device and system to carry out matched operations without programming. For more information, visit http://www.pulzzesystems.com.