Welcome!

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.

Connectivity
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.

Applications
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.

Management
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.


Latest Stories
The age of Digital Disruption is evolving into the next era – Digital Cohesion, an age in which applications securely self-assemble and deliver predictive services that continuously adapt to user behavior. Information from devices, sensors and applications around us will drive services seamlessly across mobile and fixed devices/infrastructure. This evolution is happening now in software defined services and secure networking. Four key drivers – Performance, Economics, Interoperability and Trust ...
Data is an unusual currency; it is not restricted by the same transactional limitations as money or people. In fact, the more that you leverage your data across multiple business use cases, the more valuable it becomes to the organization. And the same can be said about the organization’s analytics. In his session at 19th Cloud Expo, Bill Schmarzo, CTO for the Big Data Practice at Dell EMC, introduced a methodology for capturing, enriching and sharing data (and analytics) across the organization...
Developers want to create better apps faster. Static clouds are giving way to scalable systems, with dynamic resource allocation and application monitoring. You won't hear that chant from users on any picket line, but helping developers to create better apps faster is the mission of Lee Atchison, principal cloud architect and advocate at New Relic Inc., based in San Francisco. His singular job is to understand and drive the industry in the areas of cloud architecture, microservices, scalability ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that T-Mobile will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. As America's Un-carrier, T-Mobile US, Inc., is redefining the way consumers and businesses buy wireless services through leading product and service innovation. The Company's advanced nationwide 4G LTE network delivers outstanding wireless experiences to 67.4 million customers who are unwilling to compromise on ...
The explosion of new web/cloud/IoT-based applications and the data they generate are transforming our world right before our eyes. In this rush to adopt these new technologies, organizations are often ignoring fundamental questions concerning who owns the data and failing to ask for permission to conduct invasive surveillance of their customers. Organizations that are not transparent about how their systems gather data telemetry without offering shared data ownership risk product rejection, regu...
Everyone wants to use containers, but monitoring containers is hard. New ephemeral architecture introduces new challenges in how monitoring tools need to monitor and visualize containers, so your team can make sense of everything. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, David Gildeh, co-founder and CEO of Outlyer, will go through the challenges and show there is light at the end of the tunnel if you use the right tools and understand what you need to be monitoring to successfully use containers in your...
Bert Loomis was a visionary. This general session will highlight how Bert Loomis and people like him inspire us to build great things with small inventions. In their general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Architect at IBM Bluemix, and Michael O'Neill, Strategic Business Development at Nvidia, discussed the accelerating pace of AI development and how IBM Cloud and NVIDIA are partnering to bring AI capabilities to "every day," on-demand. They also reviewed two "free infrastructure" pr...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
New competitors, disruptive technologies, and growing expectations are pushing every business to both adopt and deliver new digital services. This ‘Digital Transformation’ demands rapid delivery and continuous iteration of new competitive services via multiple channels, which in turn demands new service delivery techniques – including DevOps. In this power panel at @DevOpsSummit 20th Cloud Expo, moderated by DevOps Conference Co-Chair Andi Mann, panelists will examine how DevOps helps to meet th...
With billions of sensors deployed worldwide, the amount of machine-generated data will soon exceed what our networks can handle. But consumers and businesses will expect seamless experiences and real-time responsiveness. What does this mean for IoT devices and the infrastructure that supports them? More of the data will need to be handled at - or closer to - the devices themselves.
Grape Up is a software company, specialized in cloud native application development and professional services related to Cloud Foundry PaaS. With five expert teams that operate in various sectors of the market across the USA and Europe, we work with a variety of customers from emerging startups to Fortune 1000 companies.
Financial Technology has become a topic of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 20th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York, June 6-8, 2017, will find fresh new content in a new track called FinTech.
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud taking place June 6-8, 2017, at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long developm...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Interoute, owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th Cloud Expo, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017 at the Javits Center in New York, New York. Interoute is the owner-operator of one of Europe's largest networks and a global cloud services platform which encompasses 12 data centers, 14 virtual data centers and 31 colocation centers, with connections to 195 add...
DevOps is often described as a combination of technology and culture. Without both, DevOps isn't complete. However, applying the culture to outdated technology is a recipe for disaster; as response times grow and connections between teams are delayed by technology, the culture will die. A Nutanix Enterprise Cloud has many benefits that provide the needed base for a true DevOps paradigm.