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Paradigm Shift with Edge Intelligence

In my Internet of Things keynote at LinuxCon 2014 in Chicago last week, I touched upon a new trend: the rise of a new kind of utility or service model, the so-called IoT specific service provider model, or IoT SP for short.

I had a recent conversation with a team of physicists at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I told them they would be surprised to hear the new computer scientist’s talk these days, about Data Gravity.  Programmers are notorious for overloading common words, adding connotations galore, messing with meanings entrenched in our natural language.

We all laughed and then the conversation grew deeper:

  • Big data is very difficult to move around, it takes energy and time and bandwidth hence expensive. And it is growing exponentially larger at the outer edge, with tens of billions of devices producing it at an ever faster rate, from an ever increasing set of places on our planet and beyond.
  • As a consequence of the laws of physics, we know we have an impedance mismatch between the core and the edge, I coined this as the Moore-Nielsen paradigm (described in my talk as well): data gets accumulated at the edges faster than the network can push into the core.
  • Therefore big data accumulated at the edge will attract applications (little data or procedural code), so apps will move to data, not the other way around, behaving as if data has “gravity”

Therefore, the notion of a very large centralized cloud that would control the massive rise of data spewing from tens of billions of connected devices is pitched both against the laws of physics and Open Source not to mention the thirst for freedom (no vendor lock-in) and privacy (no data lock-in). The paradigm shifted, we entered the 3rd big wave (after the mainframe decentralization to client-server, which in turn centralized to cloud): the move to a highly decentralized compute model, where the intelligence is shifting to the edge, as apps come to the data, at much larger scale, machine to machine, with little or no human interface or intervention.

The age-old dilemma, do we go vertical (domain specific) or horizontal (application development or management platform) pops up again. The answer has to be based on necessity not fashion, we have to do this well; hence vertical domain knowledge is overriding. With the declining cost of computing, we finally have the technology to move to a much more scalable and empowering model, the new opportunity in our industry, the mega trend.

Very reminiscent of the early 90′s and the beginning of the ISPs era, isn’t it? This time much more vertical with deep domain knowledge: connected energy, connected manufacturing, connected cities, connected cars, connected home, safety and security.  These innovation hubs all share something in common: an Open and Interconnected model, made easy by the dramatically lower compute cost and ubiquity in open source, to overcome all barriers of adoption, including the previously weak security or privacy models predicated on a central core. We can divide and conquer, deal with data in motion, differently than we deal with data at rest.

The so-called “wheel of computer science” has completed one revolution, just as its socio-economic observation predicted, the next generation has arrived, ready to help evolve or replace its aging predecessor. Which one, or which vertical will it be first…?

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