We’ve been hearing lots of talk about the Internet of Things (IOT) for at least a couple of years now, but the actual IOT applications we’ve seen thus far are really just low-hanging fruit, the tip of the iceberg. What’s intriguing, though, is to think about where the technology is headed, the considerable promise it holds, and the role that IT infrastructure will play in seeing it come to fruition.
Examples of IOT technology are all around us. In an office environment it may be right there on your desktop, driven by unified communications technology that makes your phone perform differently depending on whether you’re at your desk or not, and who’s calling. Some calls go right to voicemail, others are forwarded to your cell phone, all depending on preferences that you’ve set up ahead of time.
Similarly, we’ve got smart buildings now where lights and even heat or AC turn on and off depending on whether anyone is in the room. It’s all based on sensors relaying data to control systems that, again, respond to preferences that the building owner has predefined. This is all useful technology, to be sure, but it’s also highly customized and application-specific.
That won’t be the case for much longer. Companies are already at work on producing sensor packages and small processors that engineers can program to take on all sorts of functions – with no wires required. They will communicate with software running in the cloud, sending data back and forth and taking instructions to perform ever-more useful tasks.
On the consumer side, picture something like this. You’re walking down the hall in your house, headed to the living room. Lights turn on in the living room because a sensor in the hallway makes clear that’s where you’re headed. You sit down in your favorite chair and the TV turns on, thanks to another sensor in the chair.
Of course, it’s not the sensors making all these decisions; they’re just the enabling technology. The real brains are in cloud-based applications that you program to do your bidding. It’s not wholly dissimilar from how you can use a smart phone app to program your DVR to record a show when you’re not even home.
In an industrial environment, picture an active harbor, with container ships coming in and out. Cranes and booms at the docks handle the job of moving containers on and off ships, but they’re controlled by computers that handle the logistics behind it all, with knowledge of where each container needs to go.
Here again, that shows the promise of IOT technology. It takes a series of sensors and RFID technology to read bar codes on the containers and relay data to computers which may be in an on-site data center or, increasingly, in the cloud.
This is not pie-in-the-sky thinking by any means. As one of the leaders of Schneider Electric’s IT Division, I’ve got a ring-side seat and can clearly see how customers are using our products to make these applications come to life. The opportunity is big and wide, and they’re using our products at nearly every layer of the IOT ecosystem.
At the building level, it may be sensors and intelligent building management software. At the network edge it could be our data center enclosures and containers while at the cloud level customers are using our infrastructure to power and cool large data centers and house all of their IT equipment. And it takes intelligent software such as our StruxureWare offering to make sure it’s all running in peak form.
I’d love to hear what kinds of IOT applications your organization has developed or is working on. Feel free to let me know using the comments below. And by all means let us know if we can help.