GE Cloud could make sense of massive IoT data storm

The Internet of Things can give a company a massive influx of information, but then the problem the company faces is wrapping its corporate arms around that data to make meaningful sense of it.

While the Internet of Things can give a company a massive influx of information, it then faces the problem of wrapping its corporate arms around all that data to make meaningful use of it.

That is where General Electric, the fourth-largest company in the world, is hoping to come into play.

The company, which reaches into the home appliance, engineering, jet engine and healthcare industries, announced today that it is launching a cloud service specifically geared to the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) market.

Its platform as a service (PaaS) offering called Predix Cloud is designed to capture and analyze the unique volume, velocity and variety of machine data produced in an IoT environment.

GE developed the cloud offering after building the software and cloud infrastructure the company required to handle its own IoT needs.

The company, for instance, uses sensors from its jet engines to collect data so its engineers can better understand how the engines function over time and under stress. The sensors also can detect faults in the engines and preemptively call for repairs.

GE also uses sensors on machines in its manufacturing facilities to track the machines' functions and make them work together more efficiently.

To channel, store and analyze all that data on the fly, GE built the cloud platform and analysis tools it needed.

Now the company wants to put that expertise to work for other businesses.

"When you're talking about taking a lot of data streaming off devices that are in motion or distributed, it makes it a hard problem to solve," said Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis. "It would be extremely expensive and tough to stand up the infrastructure a company would need to tackle this problem on their own. The infrastructure you need to make this happen is beyond the pale for many organizations. GE already has the expertise and experience."

So what companies might need this cloud-based IoT service? Some examples are:

  • Factories that receive live data from machines working on manufacturing floors;
  • Hospitals that get streaming data from medical instruments, patient monitors, staff and even patient rooms;
  • And transportation companies that need to keep track of cargo ships operating around the world, while making their routes, engines and crews more efficient.

"There are a lot of companies out there that need to figure out how to ingest all of that data and make good use of it," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst with Moor Insights & Strategy. "What GE is offering means other companies don't have to build their own systems to do this. Before this, companies would need to build their own IoT management systems themselves, then host them at AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Google."

Such systems, according to Moorhead, could cost a company tens of millions of dollars.

Specialized cloud silos?

Now that GE is offering a cloud platform specifically for industrial IoT setups, does that mean the cloud market will begin to splinter into specialized silos? One for IoT, one for healthcare, one for high-security needs?

Not necessarily, said Rick Villars, an analyst with IDC.

The major cloud vendors -- AWS, Google, IBM and Microsoft may not have launched specialized cloud services. However, some have become known for developing expertise in certain areas. IBM, for example, has extensive experience with governmental cloud infrastructure. Cisco Systems has been involved with healthcare and HIPAA requirements.

Will those companies spin off specialized cloud services? That's doubtful, Villars said, but he noted that other large companies, like Japanese multinational tech firm Hitachi Ltd., or the German engineering conglomerate Siemens AG, could opt to launch their own specialized cloud services.

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