As we mentioned in our most recent blog, the Internet of Things is already here. What exactly is the Internet of Things, or IoT as it is becoming known? Will the IoT connect your refrigerator to your grocery store so that you never need to go shopping again? Will your car soon be able to communicate with other cars on the road to avoid collisions and find the quickest route home? How does this all work? And of particular interest to us, how does the IoT relate to real-time cloud computing?
“The Internet of Things is a hyped term and many definitions for it exist,” says Stephen Haller of the SAP Research Center in Zurich at the beginning of a document titled The Things in the Internet of Things. In this paper Haller lays out some basic definitions that are helpful for getting a quick grasp on the concepts of the IoT. Put simply, there are four elements in the IoT: things, devices, resources, and services.
Things are physical objects that someone might be interested in knowing about, also known as “entities of interest.” Things could include inanimate objects, products, appliances, your house, and so on, as well as the earth, atmosphere, animals and even people.
Devices extract and communicate information about a thing. A device might be attached to a thing, embedded in a thing, or be close enough to a thing to interact with it to get information, like a bar-code reader or cell phone. In some cases a device itself might considered an entity of interest.
Resources are information about a thing that a device collects, stores, and transmits. The information might be as simple as size and color, or could include more sophisticated data on location, environmental conditions, or historical data, as well as meta data about a product such as manufacture date, batch number, price, and so on.
Services provide access to the information about a thing. Services include the communcation layer necessary to connect to the device, as well as the infrastructure and hardware to present the information to a person, or possibly a machine in an M2M (machine-to-machine) scenario. Services can combine information about different things, or bring in outside resources related to a thing.
So, where does the cloud fit in? In a recent key-note address in Japan, Internet of Things & Cloud: A Happy Marriage?, Haller shared his vision of how the IoT, the cloud, and related services are “complementary aspects” of a real-world Internet. The benefits look promising, but there are challenges as well. IoT services can be widely dispersed and fine-grained. These services might provide streaming data, and yet in some situations data communications could be of low quality and reliability, due to inherent resource and peformance constraints.
In the coming weeks we will look a little more closely at the data communication side of the Internet of Things, and see how some of the core requirements of real-time cloud computing may be applicable in addressing the challenges of providing full-featured cloud support for the Internet of Things.