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Part 2: The thing I have figured out so far is that, unsurprisingly, the IoT is a journey and not a predetermined destination

Today is another exciting day as an Evangelist to a Big Data company, because I love me some data and I love making it accessible to everyone. I got it in my head that I wanted to take my other "how to," start to finish, make it an easy-for-everyone approach to analytics, and build something that would do the same for people interested in IoT. So I went ahead and started on my IoT journey today in the way I figured it was best. I bought a bunch of sensors and components and a Raspberry Pi (R-Pi) 3, yes I am turning into a hipster nerd. I had asked around to some folks I knew who were doing cool R-Pi projects and they all said that it was relatively easy to get into and get going.

The thing I have figured out so far is that, unsurprisingly, the IoT is a journey and not a predetermined destination. Even now as I sit here with buyer's remorse, thinking, "oh crap. Did I get the right things? Will I be able to really figure it out?" I realize that the underlying issue of IoT adoption is that there just isn't a lot of simplified and accessible IoT information out there for someone like me, the average Joe who wants to play with things that produce data. I am not overly dumb, and I can code a fair bit, and I have a good understanding of Big Data technology, but now, in my "grown up life phase" I have embraced the concept of "where is the thing I can buy that does the thing I want it to do without me having to figure out complex concepts/write code/hack things in my free time?" The stark reality is that in IoT land, that simply doesn't exist.

This lack of simple-to-buy, consumer-driven IoT functionality is compounded further because a lot of the information that you could use to understand the larger IoT is really confusing if you have been around IT for any length of time. What I mean is that as I have really dug into "IoT," I am realizing that what a lot of people mean by "IoT device" and the actual "Internet of Things" involves a pretty big grey area, and because they are being used interchangeably, figuring out what information applies to which type of IoT can make getting started with your own projects really difficult (and that's before we figure out how to actually configure and build the hardware and code and everything else, but more on that in later blogs!)

Allow me to explain this potential point of confusion as simply as I can:

On one side, you have "The Internet of Things" or IoT. What most people mean when they say this, based on the available research and published information, is devices that use a network of some sort to communicate to a central something (server, log, application, bit bucket, etc.), which is also commonly referred to as the Industrial Internet. The misleading word in both of these phrases is "Internet" since the Internet rarely, if ever, provides the transport layer for these communications. Additionally, while the conversations around IoT as a concept are very much in vogue right now, these types of networked devices have been around for a long time. I remember a friend telling me of his first IT gig at a major tractor manufacturer where he would have to climb around and through the dusty bits of the factory looking for devices that needed patching and rebooting. Many of these were the actual assembly controls and factory logistic machines themselves, and this was during the late '90s. So the IoT that everyone is talking about as though it was new, in the sense of devices that talk to each other, has been around for a long time. What is new and highly exciting in this field, that has emerged in the last few years, are the new analytics processes being built to use this data. It wasn't that long ago that the vast majority of this data was simply logged or dumped onto a server somewhere and completely ignored unless something went horribly wrong. With the advent of more processing and better analytics this has shifted into the realm of process optimization data sets, as well as a host of other insight-driven business decisions based on this once throw-away data.

The second "IoT" focuses more on the devices themselves, and currently has a more commercially focused vibe. Connected devices that drive some sort of app or behavior-modifying experience (connected car, toothbrush, thermostat, fitbits etc.) are really more the focus here, and the hyperbole around them is grandiose even by hype standards. Yes I am talking about the socks that track running patterns, or the sport bras that monitor your heart rate so the doctor knows how healthy you are, or the ridiculousness of the connected toothbrush that doesn't monitor anything, it just reports whether it was turned on for 3 minutes... While there are many that are a very, very good idea (I have repeatedly said that the connected car is LONG overdue), many of them are equally, to put it kindly, monumentally dumb.

The one thing that is coming out of this group that is critically important, however, is the idea that the experience of the user has to be part of the overall IoT story. By and large Industrial IoT devices are driven by a single consumer (like a factory worker or plant manager) who innately knows and understands the information being collected and very likely the device collecting it. In contrast, the commercial device-driven IoT has to appeal to a broad consumer base who likely know very little about both the device and the information it collects. This need to make devices smarter and more accessible for everyone is ultimately a great thing for the world, and brings me back to my own IoT project.

What I wanted to do is kind of insignificant or even dumb really. I have a west-facing balcony and a lot of plants that dry out really fast in the relentless afternoon sun in Colorado. I want to know when they are getting near to dry so I can water more efficiently (and not have them die from the heat). That's all. Simple, direct, actionable information that I can consume. I had hoped to just find some pre-canned sensors, or some sort of packaged "Garden Monitor System 9000" that did the trick, but when I realized none exist it became clear I needed to build my own. After all I want to both understand this nascent world of IoT/Industrial Internet, and I could not simply buy something that will keep my plants alive. And that is where we are now, my friends. I am waiting for my kit to arrive in the post, sometime in the next few days (thank you #PrimeDay!). From there we will embark on this adventure together, and I will keep you up to speed on my progress every step of the way!

Tweet me @Charrold303 if you have similar projects, R-Pi experience and hacks or just want to talk #UrbanFarming, #IoT or anything else about data and becoming #DataDriven.

More Stories By Christopher Harrold

As an Agent of IT Transformation, I have over 20 years experience in the field. Started off as the IT Ops guy and followed the trends of the DevOps movement wherever I went. I want to shake up accepted ways of thinking and develop new models and designs that push the boundaries of technology and of the accepted status quo. There is no greater reward for me than seeing something that was once dismissed as "impossible" become the new normal, and I have been richly rewarded throughout my career with this result. In my last role as CTO at EMC Corporation, I was working tirelessly with a small group of engineers and product managers to build a market leading, innovative platform for data analytics. Combining best of breed storage, analytics and visualization solutions that enables the Data as a Service model for enterprise and mid sized companies globally.

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