With our partners at Microsoft announcing today the new Azure suite of Internet of Things services, we thought it’d be worthwhile to look at what precisely they mean by the Internet of Things.
You’ve probably heard the term being bandied about. It’s one of the latest in the long string of technological buzzwords that seem to exist only to confuse. Over the course of the last year, the term has become almost inescapable.
It’s particularly confusing because it’s a rather vague term that doesn’t refer to a specific technology. Rather, it refers to a concept.
This concept, the Internet of Things, is here to stay. Let’s investigate what it is.
The Internet of Things
A working couple wants to save on their energy bills, so they’ve installed wirelessly connected thermostats in their house. Rather than having to program a schedule for keeping the house cool when they’re gone—an excellent way to save money on their energy bills—they use an app on their smartphones that connects to the thermostats. Whenever they leave, they punch in a low temperature. A half-hour before they get back, whenever that may be, they raise it back up.
This is a classic example of the Internet of Things, using the internet to connect people with objects remotely.
Because of the incredible innovation in technology in recent years, what’s connected to the internet has expanded vastly. It’s not just computers that are connected: it’s thermostats, smartphones, coffee makers, basketball shoes, forklifts, particle accelerators, elevators… in other words: everything.
Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers made this point clearly a year ago: “When I came to Cisco there were about a thousand things connected to the internet, now there are 10 billion; by the end of the decade there will be 500 billion.”
This is what makes the idea difficult to understand, because when the stakes are connecting pretty much everything, how do you narrow down the topic? You can see this problem of definition in Microsoft’s announcement today:
Microsoft’s vision is to help companies thrive in this era of IoT, delivering open, scalable platforms and services that any company, whether startup or the most established global enterprises, can use to create new value.
Basically, that translates to Microsoft saying: we want to help any size of company integrate anything they want.
The primary idea behind the Internet of Things is integration.
Even more than the first two waves of the internet—with personal computers and with mobile technology—the Internet of Things is diverse and unfathomably huge. There may be more smartphones than people on the Earth, but think about how many smartthings there could be.
With that in mind, there are two things to pay particular attention to when reading about the Internet of Things:
1. What is being integrated?
2. How is it being connected?
When you read articles that talk about the Internet of Things, look to see what the companies want to integrate. There is a great deal of innovation happening right now, and it seems like every day a new item that you never thought would become part of the internet is now connected. This is a rather obvious point.
What’s not so obvious is to see how the thing is being integrated. Developers are scrambling to carve out their niches. At the same time, because everything needs to be developed without fragmenting the marketplace completely, companies are also working toward open standards. Open standards will allow the whole technological community to maintain quality even in the grip of rapid change. For an example of this, Cade Metz, recently wrote in Wired about the importance of Facebook’s “open source” hardware designs.
However, because it’s all changing so rapidly, no one really knows what going to happen with the Internet of Things even in a few years’ time.
The great hope for the Internet of Things is that it will make our lives more convenient. Think of that family with their thermostat. If they forget one morning or if their routine is interrupted, it’s no big deal. They’ll be connected. They have much more flexibility.
Whether or not you think of these innovations as increasing convenience or as being one more thing you need to worry about will depend on your personality and personal philosophy. It’s a major debate out there. For example, for all the ballyhoo about fitness technology, according to Nir Eyal, it’s not clear whether such technology actually helps someone stay fit.
For businesses, however, the argument for increased convenience is stronger.
Employees will be connected and sharing data on everything. Performance monitoring will be more fine-grained. Remote workers will be able to stay integrated while living in their preferred place and manner, making for much happier workers. And on and on. You can think of the possibilities.
With more of the basics being done by technology, it might free employees to focus on the creative aspects of business, where technology is no competition. It will, the advocates say, allow companies to increase their flexibility, productivity, and efficiency all at once.
But are there any serious drawbacks?
The biggest problem with the Internet of Things is the increased risk of security breaches. It already feels like these breaches make up most of the news you watch in the evening. Is this only going to increase? Well, all the data provided by people using trackable products—and everything connected to the internet is in some way trackable—can help companies innovate.
That data also has the potential to be hacked.
Actually, hacking is almost inevitable in some sense right now. We wrote in September about the huge increase in data hackers. Because the Internet of Things means an almost infinite number of connections will be made between devices, how do you protect against bad connections?
Unfortunately, no one really knows what’s going to happen in the struggle between users and hackers.
Secure network construction and standardized initial set-up of infrastructure will be even more important than it is now. For even though the Internet of Things as a buzzword points to the cloud where everything is connected, this all ultimately relies on physical engineering. Thankfully, companies like TriTech who integrate not only the latest technological innovations, but also know how to do solid, well-planned construction are still around! With our back-to-front information technology services, TriTech can make your company as secure as it can be while granting you the incredible advantages of the Internet of Things.