Cloud and M2M are two of the hottest topics in communications today. But, you may be asking yourself, just how do the two relate to one another?
They don’t have to, but increasingly, there are.
Consider this: An M2M device itself generates a relatively small about of data. But when you realize that billions of these devices will be out in the world collecting and then spitting back out information, things add up quickly.
Enter the cloud, which offers M2M benefits not only in terms of connectivity and storage, but also in terms of data convergence and, as a result, real business benefits.
Historically, M2M projects have been expensive to get off the ground, so the classic argument of cloud about offloading capex is an obvious value proposition again in this case, says Bill Zujewski, executive vice president of product strategy and marketing at Axeda (News - Alert), a 12-year-old company that provides cloud-based M2M services. The cloud is also a great place for organizations to store the massive amounts of data that can be generated by M2M applications, adds Zujewski, who says that some customer’s M2M applications generate millions of readings an hour.
The cloud makes it simpler to get devices connected because the cloud abstracts the complexity, adds Brian Anderson, vice president of marketing solutions and services at Sierra Wireless, which sells embeddable radios, modems and gateways, and a cloud-based M2M device management and application platform. Sierra Wireless recently forged a partnership with Amazon Web Services, which allows for the combination of M2M, the cloud, and the integration of M2M data with information in other databases.
In this scenario, Amazon hosts the application and Sierra hosts the data via its AirVantage M2M Cloud.
Making data available via the cloud means it’s easier for enterprises to propagate that data to other departments, businesses, etc., adds Zujewski. Axeda connects machines to its cloud, processes machine data, allows users to store that data in the Axeda cloud, provides prepackaged services and a set of API and Web services so others can build custom apps, and offers the ability to integrate data from all of the above with information in other apps like Salesforce.com (News - Alert).
Customers of Axeda consist mostly to M2M machine manufacturers, including more than 60 medical equipment company, high tech outfits and ATM owners. These customers usually start off with remote monitoring as their first application, but often expand their M2M efforts from there to tie in with other data, and to unearth business intelligence. About a third of Axeda’s customers use the Salesforce.com Service Cloud, so the cloud enables them to share their data between the Axeda apps and Service Cloud.
While data that resides on customer premises tends to involve flat file exports and spreadsheets, the cloud relies on RESTful APIs, which look like http and make it very easy for applications, developers and IT business analysts to extract the needed data and potentially leverage it in other applications.
“Cloud will play a major role economically and enable broader use of machine data,” Zujewski said.
Indeed. And the social machine, as it is being called, is one concept that will move that forward.
“The social machine is all about how I bring real-time device info into the Service Cloud so the devices can open cases all by themselves,” explained Joel Young, CTO and senior vice president of R&D at Digi International (News - Alert), which sells cloud-based M2M solutions.
Young elaborates: If you are an MRI machine, rather than having to tell someone you’re low on helium, wouldn’t it be better if the machine could tell the helium company that automatically and directly? You could do so by telling Service Cloud to open a ticket on that.
Service Cloud is an offering from Salesforce.com that runs on the cloud service provider’s Force.com platform. Service Cloud from Salesforce.com delivers a multichannel, collaborative and operationally efficient contact center; social support; customer communities, including Chatter; and more. The Social Contact Center aspect of Service Cloud allows work in the form of service cases or tickets to be created, tracked, routed and escalated across all channels.
When asked what components or ingredients are involved in the social machine, Young answered that it’s a combination of Service Cloud and his own company’s iDigi solution.
Digi has been working to build a connection from its iDigi cloud platform to Salesforce, he says, adding this effort tackles connectivity between the two platforms from a device standpoint. At the same time, Etherios, which Digi bought in November, had a similar initiative underway, but that relates to integration from a workforce point of view. When Digi acquired Etherios, it created a development team to merge those two code bases to deliver a much more integrated application, which gives users an opportunity to configure a workforce task which would then configure an API within iDigi and reporting within iDigi, and then automatically configure connections within Force.com. That way, the user no longer has to do multiple configurations of iDigi and Salesforce, he explains.
Digi expects to be in customer betas with this integrated solution starting in February and aims to test uses cases as part of the effort.
Peter Coffee, vice president and head of platform research for Salesforce.com, says that the first iteration of the social machine is Amazon’s recommendation engine, but that today’s confluence of devices with rich sensor capability combined with connectivity and social algorithms that help us distill floods of data into insight is opening up a bevy of new possibilities for solving problems, lowering costs, and increasing profitability – and doing it all in a way that involves big picture thinking.
For example, it’s now possible to collect and analyze data to understand who among many car owners is getting the best mileage from the Chevy Volt; to look an entire operation, rather than just piece parts, to enable wind farm optimization; and to get a much broader understanding on spam and malware threats so we can guard against them. That means businesses can react and do product design proactively rather than reactively, Coffee points out.
“It’s vital to get over the idea that mobile just means portable and small enough to fit in your pocket,” Coffee tells M2M Evolution.
A mobile device, he points out, has sense of your location, whether you’re moving and at what approximate rate of speed, and the potential to connect to a cloud-based calendar or other data so it knows what you are doing and where you are going. This kind of information goes well beyond frivolous applications such as sharing your whereabouts and activities with friends, Coffee says; such data can be used to help organizations save some serious money.
For example, some companies’ businesses rely on filling vending machines or calibrating medical devices. Of course, some of these machines or devices need attending to immediately, while others are further down on the to-do list, he says. By combining M2M and business analytics and even common business applications within the cloud, organizations can more efficiently leverage the time of their field staff members so they hit the most important jobs first but are alerted if they’re in the area of lower-priority jobs they can take care of them as well while if time permits.
“The world is full of 1 percent problems,” said Coffee, adding they can add up to a 40-50 percent increase in profitability for companies in some cases. (For more with Coffee on the social machine and other M2M-related topics, see page xx.)
Jim Wert, general manager for the deviceWISE M2M platform at ILS Technology LLC, a 12-year-old IBM (News - Alert) spinoff, adds that companies typically start out with relatively simple M2M applications. Restaurant Technologies Inc., for example, wanted to monitor the amount of oil used in fast food restaurants. Now they do that and they also collect quality data on fryers and resell that data to fryer manufacturers so the manufacturers can see how their products are being used, do proactive selling, and leverage data to optimize the next-generation of equipment.
When the topic of the cloud arises, another common discussion that comes up has to do with what equipment and smarts should reside within the cloud and what – if anything – to put at the customer premises.
Axeda’s Zujewski says it doesn’t always make sense to put all M2M-related data within the cloud of the service provider. The best place to store sophisticated and pattern analytics may be at the customer site, he says, because data warehouse analysis is sometimes so unique to a customer’s business that it’s difficult to provide an off-the-shelf solution in this realm.
As for the placement of network equipment in M2M applications, the Viewbiquity (News - Alert) CEO says the M2M hosted service his company offers acts as a central nervous system, and that the apps are executed in app servers that can be deployed anywhere – at your data centers or theirs. The service also relies on edge gateways, which sit at each customer premises to compile data from multiple M2M devices and send that data to the app server, which contains the intelligence to read the data. Because the edge gateways have to go at every premises location, it’s important for these boxes to be pretty basic, allowing for more flexibility and lower costs.
He adds that the Viewbiquity cloud architecture means that app servers can be located closer to customers or data centers to allow for lower costs, more centralized control, and less latency. Controlling latency is important, he explains, because it affects the kind of applications that can be supported.
If, for example, an enterprise wants to get data from sensors remotely, just a millisecond of latency can add up when multiple devices are involved, he says. That can be too long for an application requiring real-time results to be successful.
Edited by Braden Becker