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Living with the Internet of Things

Posted: 18 Apr 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Internet of Things? Internet protocol? IPv6? M2M?

Not so long ago, alarmists fretted about running out of IP domain space. Then IPv6 opened up plenty of addresses for machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and the much-hyped Internet of Things. The challenge now becomes making sense of all the sensor data that will stream from our myriad connected devices to the cloud. And the opportunity becomes crafting the applications that address society's problems today and anticipate the unforeseen needs of tomorrow.

The Internet addressing system conceived in 1977 at the U.S. Department of Defense by Vint Cerf, today chief Internet evangelist at Google, used 32bit IP addresses to connect people to people, providing more than 4.3 billion unique hosts for trusted user accounts. As the Internet began to be dominated by M2M connections, a revised, 128bit scheme (IPv6) was adopted to allow for 18 billion hosts, accommodating more than 300 trillion secure devices.

Now there is more than enough address space, along with Internet protocol security (IPsec), to accommodate the universe of cloud-ready devices that IBM Corp. last year predicted would surpass 1 trillion nodes by 2015.

With its Smarter Planet Initiative, IBM anticipates the endgame for the Internet of Things (IoT). Its researchers envision a global electronic nervous system, with trillions of individual sensors monitoring the status of everything of interest to humans and streaming the resultant exabytes of data to cloud-based cluster supercomputers that extract the ultimate value from the data using analytics software modeled on the human mind.

Picture the Watson AI that last year beat human champions at "Jeopardy," but on a planetary scale.

"The emergence of the Internet of Things has created such a flood of data that only state-of-the-art information technology can gather, filter, order and interrogate the resulting, massive data set, generically called Big Data, " said Bernie Meyerson, an IBM fellow and vice president of innovation at IBM Research. "The ability to then employ analytics on Big Data in a given fieldbe that health care, transportation, energy or other Smarter Planet endeavorspromises new insights and routes to optimization benefiting everyone."

Past technological revolutions have been based on timely innovations; the invention of the steam engine, for example, fueled the Industrial Revolution. But the Internet of Things isn't based on a breakthrough technology; rather, it leverages micro- and nanoscale versions of established devices.

The engineering hurdles to the IoT center on solving the tough problems in security, standardization, network integration, ultralow-power devices, energy harvesting and, perhaps most important of all, perceived network reliability, so that people will rest assured the planet's emerging electronic nervous system has their best interests at heart.

ZigBee technology

ZigBee technology can enable the connected home by letting devices such as lights, thermostats, security sensors, smart meters and in-home displays communicate with one another to create safer, greener, more comfortable living environments.
Source: Ember

IBM setting the pace
IBM is perhaps furthest along in realizing the IoT with existing technologies. For instance, the "mote" sensors it invented to optimize the heat and humidity produced by servers in data centers are now being used to preserve paintings at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Malta, IBM repurposed its wireless radio technology to enable the first national utility grid that has swapped out all of its analog gas meters for smart meters. And Edmonton, Alberta, is using IBM cloud-based analytics to optimize traffic management, leveraging existing infrastructure to track traffic flow in real-time.

As IBM did a decade ago, Hewlett-Packard Co. recently abandoned its PC-centric, one-computer-per-person business model and is reinventing itself as a service provider via its Smarter Planet-like Central Nervous System for the Earth (CeNSE) strategy. Both companies are now integrating all levels of the emerging IoT, from the sensors to the communications to the cloud-based analytics, hoping to extract business value from the expected trillion-node volumes that are already driving dollar costs per edge device down to the single digits.

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