Top IT vendors reveal their IoT strategies

Cisco, IBM, HP, Intel, Microsoft argue that the Internet of Things is mainstream today.

The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grab headlines--as well as the attention of IT vendors looking to tap into the growing market for IoT-related products and services.

Not surprisingly, vendors are taking varied approaches to IoT, based on their own strengths. "The big vendors generally understand the importance of building interoperable platforms and they are helping lead this development," says Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a research and educational institute.

The vendors' IoT strategies can be traced back to their original DNA, adds Vernon Turner, senior vice president of research at International Data Corp.

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For example, Cisco is bullish on the economic value of what the IoT can bring, and what benefits users will have by enabling a large and connected IP-based environment, Turner says.

IBM is taking a different approach, Turner says. "It has established its presence in the 'Smarter Planet' campaign, where using the IoT sensors enables cities and businesses to run better under an IBM cloud and analytics approach," he says.

Intel "will enable industry wide standards that use their silicon at the sensor level, while trying to make connectivity an open standard as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi, and in doing so take the complexity out of the 'plumbing,'" Turner says.

"There is no one leader from the traditional IT vendor pool that seems to be running away with the IoT opportunity," adds Turner. "The challenge is that the opportunity is so large, ranging from the public sector to the private sector, from human IoT to industrial IoT."

And let's not forget startups, Turner says, "because IoT will disrupt the current business models within an existing company and within existing markets. We are seeing hundreds of use cases across every industry sector, and startups will move quickly into these new markets."

Smaller companies and startups "are mostly innovating at the edges, [for example] creating new devices, new networking protocols, new batteries, etc. that will make up the IoT," Castro says.

We asked key IT vendors to share their IoT strategies (Apple and Google declined to take part), and here's what they had to say:

Cisco: It's not just IoT, it's IoE

What is Cisco's definition of and vision for IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the intelligent connectivity of smart devices, expected to drive massive gains in efficiency, business growth and quality of life. In other words, when objects can sense each other and communicate, it changes how and where and who makes decisions about our physical world.

This is especially meaningful for private enterprises and public institutions, which can find more operating efficiencies, deliver greater value to customers, employees, and citizens in general, and enable new business models.

The Internet of Things has its roots in industrial automation, noticeable recently in the convergence of operational technology and IT. The Internet of Everything (IoE) builds on the Internet of Things by adding people, process and data. Our network intelligence allows convergence, orchestration, and visibility across previously disparate systems.

The IoT is a subset or element of the broader IoE. The IoT is a gateway to reach the full value potential of the IoE. The IoE brings together people, processes, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before--turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences and better business decisions.

What is Cisco's approach/strategy with IoT in terms of product and services offerings?

Cisco has taken a multi-layer architectural approach to helping businesses implement an IoT infrastructure. Cisco's IoT platform enables businesses to build upon existing systems, while also enabling distributed computing closer to where data is needed for near real-time analysis and action. It is a multi-layer, standards-based platform with "learning machines" (smarter routers, switches and wireless devices) that reliably delivers data to guide businesses to take the right action at the right time.

Cisco IOx, part of Cisco's multi-layer IoT platform, brings intelligent compute and open connectivity to the network edge, placing them closer to where data is being collected and real-time decisions made. This application architecture framework accelerates solution performance in an open, flexible, and manageable way, to inspire new business models for innovative, agile, and efficient operations.

When will IoT become mainstream?

IoT is here and now. Sometime between 2008 and 2009 the number of connected objects surpassed the number of people living in the planet. Depending who you ask there are between 1.5 to 2-plus connected things per person today, and we are forecasting to have over 50 billion connected objects by 2020. That is a growth rate that is five times faster than electricity or telephony.

Now, I would not say that the IoT market is mainstream yet, but has certainly taken off already, and is growing very, very fast. In our experience the market will progress by the implementation of focused proof-of-concepts for specific use case.

During the discussions we had with the IoT World Forum Steering Committee, an industry group hosted by Cisco and formed by 75-plus companies working together for the progress of the Internet of Things, it was clear that the success of those proof-of-concepts will drive the creation of standards, the development of complementary products from market leaders, and the alignment of the industry around a common solution foundation.

We believe that some industries such as manufacturing, energy utilities and transportation are ripe for disruption, and others will take a bit longer. But the effect will be broad and profound.

HP: Focusing on middleware

What is HP's definition of and vision for IoT?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an ICT concept that describes a connected world where common physical objects are connected to the Internet through either a physical or a wireless medium, and able to identify themselves and their capabilities to people as well as other devices.

The purpose of this connectivity is to give physical objects attributes which supersede the capabilities of their non-connected counterparts. A great example of the Internet of Things in practical application is a non-stop toll gate on a highway. As you pass through the wireless gate, at speed, sensors in your car exchange information with the sensor in the gate to automatically debit an account for your use of the highway.

In the event that a driver does not have a sensor, or "toll tag" in their car, a camera takes a picture of the license plate of the car so a bill can be sent directly to the vehicle owner. In HP's vision of IoT, we see a world emerging where people are always connected to their content, services and machines, and provide solutions for the digital lifestyle that is rapidly emerging.

What is HP's approach/strategy with IoT in terms of product and services offerings?

HP's strategy for IoT enables the ecosystem middleware, which allows the interchange of machine data to be monetized, creating a digital economy.

Specifically, we provide the cloud-based platforms that expose interfaces for the machines themselves, interfaces for the applications and services that want to consume the machine data, and finally interfaces that allow the analysis and reporting on the machine data. This approach leverages HP's considerable expertise in high-volume data management, processing and analysis coupled with our specific expertise in mobile networks and the CSP environment.

When will IoT become mainstream?

In my opinion, IoT has been mainstream for about 10 years. I think the real question is when will IoT become so pervasive that everything we interact with has a digital connection.

M2M/IoT are not new. In fact, we have been using RFID, NFC, parking meters, sensors in bridges for ice, and sensors in roads for traffic light control for years. What is happening now is that wireless connectivity is starting to become ubiquitous and pervasive.

As this wireless connectivity is available everywhere and IPv6 becomes the new standard of addressing for everything, compute models will become practical for insertion into anything that has data to be shared. I anticipate that we will see the "Rise of the Machines" in the Internet of Things to track fairly close to the global rollout of LTE 4G services.

IBM: Creating a Smarter Planet

What is IBM's definition of and vision for IoT?

IBM has a vision of a "Smarter Planet", in which we'll be able to tackle some of our greatest challenges because the world is becoming increasingly instrumented, interconnected and intelligent.

The Internet of Things provides the first two of "the three I's"--putting sensors on remote "things" and connecting them securely via the Internet, or other communications networks, to back-office servers where the Intelligence can be applied.

By "Intelligent" we mean analytics, big data, visualization--turning data into information and knowledge about the world outside.

Understanding what's happening to remote systems allows us to move up that value chain towards wisdom or insight. You can start to apply things like predictive analytics and forecasting to anticipate forthcoming events. For example, using predictive failure analysis to determine when a piece of equipment is likely to fail, so that maintenance can be optimized based on the likelihood of failure, rather than traditional routine maintenance and replacement methods.

IBM's Smarter Planet vision also includes control of remote devices, or "actuators", to enable devices to be turned on or off, up or down; for example turning your home heating thermostat down (or off!) automatically when you leave the house.

What is IBM's approach/strategy with IoT in terms of product and services offerings?

IBM has an extensive portfolio of software products in the "messaging middleware" category, which enable applications to communicate with other applications, systems and devices easily and efficiently. Our approach is to enable our clients to integrate IoT devices into their business processes seamlessly, securely and in a scalable manner.

In other words we enable IoT data to be integrated into enterprise applications, so a real-world event detected by a sensor becomes a "business event" with relevance, context and impact for the business.

IBM offers a hardware "appliance" called IBM MessageSight, which processes large volumes of IoT, M2M (Machine-to-Machine) and mobile application data, as a bridge to enterprise messaging systems. IBM also offers IT consulting and development services for the full implementation lifecycle of IoT and mobile solutions, making full use of cloud software- and platform-as-a-service architectures.

When will IoT become mainstream?

It's happening now. It's just a matter of degree. Public perception and acceptance of the benefits of the IoT is growing and devices and applications integrate to provide value. A good example is home energy monitoring and heating control systems, which are now reaching the market, enabling people to have an awareness of how much energy they're using, and take active steps to control and reduce it.

Intel: Providing the building blocks

 What is Intel's definition of and vision for IoT?

The Internet of Things consists of a wide range of Internet-connected devices, including everything from a simple pedometer to a complex CT scanner.

The true value in the Internet of Things is realized when these intelligent devices communicate and share data with each other and the cloud, uncovering information and actionable insight that can transform businesses.

For the past year or so we've been studying the pain points in the industry and working closely with our customers to better understand what IoT really means to them.

In terms of productivity and efficiency, only a few percentage points improvement make a considerable improvement to the bottom line. There are also vast opportunities waiting for companies in data they already produce; but first they need to capture it, unlock the valuable insights, and take them to market.

What is Intel's approach/strategy with IoT in terms of product and services offerings?

As a leader in computing solutions from the device to the data center, Intel is focused on driving intelligence in new devices and gateways to help connect billions of existing devices.

As more devices become connected every day, companies face increased fragmentation, interoperability and security challenges. To address this, Intel is delivering integrated, scalable hardware and software solutions specifically designed to meet diverse market needs from devices to the cloud. An end-to-end strategy requires making devices more intelligent and secure to reliably filter and manage data locally, and Intel addresses this with a scalable road map of products to power devices at the edge of the network, from the energy-efficient Intel Quark SoC to the high-performance Intel Xeon processors.

Intel is also delivering a portfolio of hardware and software products designed to unlock data intelligence from the device through the network to the cloud, enabling new business models and service offerings.

By developing horizontal building blocks for vertical end-to-end analytics as well as distributed analytics for edge systems and data center, Intel helps companies take the critical step in unlocking the power of the IoT by turning big data into actionable information.

When will IoT become mainstream?

Despite its relatively newfound popularity, the Internet of Things already has an established foothold in today's businesses. Of course, we do expect it to grow and expand in the near term. In fact, by 2020, we'll see more than 200 billion connected devices and a $9 trillion market for the IoT. Although some businesses and individuals are just waking up to the possibilities of the IoT, and despite hurdles such as lack of standards, scalability, and a newer application ecosystem, there are plenty of transformational IoT projects already hard at work. From autonomous car technology to smart city projects such as the recently announced city of San Jose pilot, it's clear that the IoT is here, and it's here to stay.

Microsoft: It's the Internet of Your Things

What is Microsoft's definition of and vision for IoT?

Microsoft's point of view is a simple one: The Internet of Things is not some futuristic technology trend. It's here already in today's powerful devices, sensors, cloud infrastructure and business intelligence tools. The true value lies in the data. Simply put, when those "things" are connected, they produce large amounts of information that companies can put to use. We call this the Internet of Your Things.

What is Microsoft's approach/strategy with IoT in terms of product and services offerings?

Through our commitment to the embedded market and intelligent systems, Microsoft has been working for years to help companies tap into data in new ways by connecting their existing IT assets into unique solutions.

When smart devices capture data and relay it to back-end systems and services via the cloud, data is turned into valuable insight for the business. This process is repeated over and over every day by billions of smart devices within intelligent systems, and it's really about taking the academic theory of IoT and making it actionable for business.

In fact, intelligent systems based on Microsoft technologies are in such high demand that Microsoft recently released a new partner competency to help the industry understand how to build and optimize them for customers.

Most companies can leverage existing technology assets to reap surprising results from IoT right away. Microsoft's Windows platform already powers everything from specialized industry devices to PCs, phones and servers. The Microsoft Azure cloud service offers massive processing capabilities that can be tied into data storage and analytics tools in Microsoft SQL Server, Azure HD Insight and Power BI for Office 365.

When will IoT become mainstream?

Again, we would argue that IoT is already here today, and well on its way to becoming mainstream, especially in business. Businesses today are facing a convergence of data from diverse sources, perhaps none as great as the potential provided by IoT.

IDC recently predicted the number of "connected things" will reach 212 billion by the end of 2020. As exciting as that may be, connecting these "things" within the IoT universe and harnessing the data can be a complex process for most organizations dealing with heterogeneous operating system environments, varying connectivity protocols and legacy application compatibility. Further, and connectivity aside, there's also the obvious challenge of being able to draw meaningful insights from the volume of data unleashed by IoT.

Violino is a freelance writer. He can be reached at bviolino@optonline.net

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