The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting sensors, cameras, machines, and other devices at an amazing rate. But what drives the value of these digitized devices is not just the connections—it’s the applications that the connections enable. Think, for example, of a connected transportation system. It is not enough that buses have GPS and can connect to the Internet—what could really make a difference is an application that dynamically plans bus routes based on where people are, how long they have been waiting, and where they are going. That’s where the true value is.
You might even say that applications are the reason we connect things and collect data from those things. So those of us who are building the IoT infrastructure must understand what application developers need, and then enable them to take advantage of the IoT infrastructure and the data it carries. This means we need more than open APIs—we must make it easy for an application to get the data it requires from the infrastructure and to provide input into the infrastructure.
Additionally, we need to respond to the changing ways people want to interact with the devices at the edge. Traditionally, a process engineer might control or program a production line using a fixed human-machine interface (HMI) screen physically attached to the production machinery. Today, there is a growing need for remote and mobile interface capabilities—especially for the growing ranks of Millennials who want to be able to use iPads and other mobile devices to interact with IoT deployments. Cisco’s IOx platform is a flexible application development environment with a goal of enabling developers to connect applications with any protocol, interface, or device. In the future, this could even enable a control engineer in the factory to look at a robot’s operation through smart goggles, instantly viewing maintenance statistics and malfunction alerts.
It’s also extremely important to have a consistent IoT application development environment across the network, from the cloud to the edge. This gives developers the flexibility to implement their applications in the cloud, in the fog, or a combination of both, depending on use case. For example, Davra Networks offers an IoT application enablement platform that combines cloud-based asset management and business intelligence services with an IoT fog controller that enables local analytics, local decision making, and powerful sensor-based data collection. And Cisco’s own IOx platform enables fog nodes to host applications at the network’s edge using the same compute, storage, and memory capabilities as those that reside in the cloud. For example, an application may use both fog and cloud capabilities to combine local presence with remote expertise. In this way, a production line engineer can take a picture of a broken tool on the line using a mobile device, and get live help from a remote expert to diagnose and fix the problem.
Finally, while we may talk about a comprehensive application development platform, there is no “one size fits all” platform for IoT. Rather than taking a fixed technology-out approach, we need to start with a particular use case or industry, and let that drive the platform technology. One startup that “gets” this is azeti, a company in Berlin that is building their business around remote asset monitoring and management software. They started with a focus on service provider towers, and now have extended the application to substations and oil rigs. They build their IoT application development platform modules based on the needs of the specific vertical industry.
Cisco now has 20 to 30 third-party apps running on our fog nodes to enable real-time insight and action at the edge of the network, and more are being developed all the time. We want to make it easy for developers to create a wide range of applications, because we understand why our customers want to connect things— they want to create new value from these connections.