Integration Is Key for Enabling the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is projected to become the latest must-have technology in the next year or two as it takes us from the silly, such as smart refrigerators, to the revolutionary, such as remote healthcare delivery. Technology companies big and small are rushing to establish market domination by creating platforms and interface standards to support their version of the IoT vision. With all the hype, it is hard to cut through to the reality that IoT applications only work if all the moving pieces are well-integrated.
The components needed to build an IoT platform include not only the devices themselves, but also software that runs the devices and connects the devices to the backend systems, the backend systems (usually cloud-based) to support the analytics engines, data bases and other intelligent applications, and last but certainly not least, the underlying network that allows all the parts to communicate.
Microsoft, in addition to Oracle and Intel, is one of the few vendors today that is offering most of the pieces required for building integrated IoT applications in one package. Love them or hate them, well-integrated platforms have long been one of Microsoft’s greatest strengths. In October 2014, it released a totally repositioned Windows Embedded designed to support IoT applications. Version 8.1 Windows Embedded is a completely revamped platform that is well positioned to solve that pesky integration problem, the biggest obstacle for more widespread IoT adoption.
Version 8.1 includes many new features: full support for touch interactions, a rich library of embedded tools, and a splashy website (The Internet of Your Things) that stresses the need for a holistic approach to IoT development. Since the platform is still new, the success stories are few, but retail applications are prominently featured. On the research side, they are again stressing the consumer side of the market with their HomeOS home automation system and its associated Lab of Things.
Unlike Intel and Oracle, which are primarily embedded systems development platforms, Microsoft has an ace up its sleeve with Azure Intelligent Systems Service (ISS), which is a cloud-based platform that works in conjunction with Windows Embedded to build IoT applications. Currently in limited public preview to give its system integrators and independent software vendor partners time to build industry vertical IoT market solutions. While by itself this is not an IoT application, it is a toolkit built by a company with a long track record for building such products. General availability to users is not expected until the first quarter of 2015.
Another option is Verizon’s M2M Application Development Environment program (M.A.D.E.), which is a cloud backend designed to facilitate rapid development of IoT applications, with more than 20 M2M application templates, providing the foundation for M2M solutions in industries verticals such as healthcare, energy, transportation, and others.
In conclusion, with so few established IoT standards, today IoT projects have to be customized for specific use cases and environments. Now that Microsoft has stepped in to fill the IoT standards and integration gap, this could finally signal a realization that IoT is not just for technology geeks. To maintain that competitive advantage, Microsoft and its competitors will have to continue to build better integrated platforms to keep up with the rapidly evolving IoT market.