The challenging future of the data center in an IoT landscape

Disclosure: This post was previously published on Atos Ascent Blog Post and was co-authored by Mr. Andrea Sorrentino (LinkedIn) – minor format and content edits have been applied to fit it to this website.

“Whosoever desires constant success must change his conduct with the times.” This phrase of Machiavelli Wikipedia perfectly aligns with how we should consider the Internet of Things (IoT) – the need to change our mindset regarding the IT industry and how we use data. Better analytics are now creating an amount of information which has never been obtained before; providing important insights into markets and consumers. The IoT can further enhance the business value extrapolated from data, and we find ourselves in the early phase of development of this new technology that will shape our vision of the world.

Now, imagine a company that distributes millions of sensors along its production chain in several factories, all sending data about machinery to a central location. On one hand, managers will have access to a large amount of data which can effectively contribute to help correct inefficiencies, and to create business value. McKinsey estimate that if policy makers and businesses get it right, linking the physical and digital worlds could generate up to $11.1 trillion a year in economic value by 2025. On the other hand, the data center involved would probably very quickly reach its processing capacity, as it would be overloaded with data and connections that are being pushed from the sensors. According to Gartner, it would not be technically and economically feasible to maintain every computing activity in a central location with the IoT.

The impact of the IoT

The IoT will have a huge influence on companies’ data center strategies, and the best option is likely to be creating a distributed data center infrastructure, installing smaller facilities close to the devices for local processing, with further aggregation in a central location. This creates a more flexible management system which can be adapted to changing requirements. The old logic of using a centralized data center to reduce costs and increase security is simply not compatible in the IoT era. However, any strategy is dependent on the smartness of the devices being used to filter data and avoid overloading the entire system to prevent inefficiencies.

The adoption of the IoT will likely lead to a profound reassessment of data management strategies within businesses, and aspects such as costs and the integration of new technology are hot topics for managers today. The IoT represents a great opportunity for creating smarter companies that are more responsive to market needs. It enhances capabilities that, decades ago, managers could barely imagine: real time analytics that allow for preemptive intervention to avoid potential errors.

Therefore, implementing IoT solutions is important to be able to create a tailored data management strategy, re-considering the role of the data center for a business. The IoT will likely speed up the transitional process to cloud-oriented infrastructure; companies in different sectors are already gradually running a larger part of their processes on hybrid cloud solutions. The cloud is an enabler of digital transformation which can enhance the potential of the entire infrastructure, and support in delivering better services.

A future for the traditional data center?

The advancement of IoT and cloud computing may lead to the reduction in the use of data centers by businesses, simply due to the potential level of scalability and flexibility that companies may need to attain. Clearly, security cannot be underestimated and companies need to maintain a robust infrastructure around their data. It is likely that data centers will gradually lose strategic importance for most businesses, however physical locations will still be needed as safe stations of reference in case of system failures.

IT managers need to begin thinking about the best approach to optimize and innovate their infrastructure, ensuring it doesn’t become quickly outdated in a fast moving environment, enabled by the IoT.

 

4 ways the Industrial Internet of Things can enable digital transformation

Disclosure: This post was previously published on Atos Ascent and was co-authored by Mr. Andrea Sorrentino (who wrote a significant part of the text below) – minor format and content edits have been applied to fit it to this website.

Today the manufacturing industry faces one of the biggest challenges in modern times: how to embrace the next industrial revolution. The technological disruption which has arisen from “Industry 4.0”, the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, has drastically changed how we see the world today. Moreover, the highly competitive landscape poses urgent questions of change management that manufacturing companies need to address quickly.

Nowadays, in a more inter-connected world, companies need to adopt the right tools to get closer to the market and become more competitive. The manufacturing industry needs to adopt big data to innovate, to optimize their processes, and improve yields. But how should managers approach this technological revolution and work towards creating a smarter factory?

Machinery performance can now be measured with small sensors connected to the internet, monitoring where efficiency can be optimized. For example, workers will be able to foresee machinery malfunctioning, and intervene in a timely manner. Gartner’s latest forecast predicts 20.4 billion things will be connected by 2020, which will completely change the way we work in several sectors. In the meantime, machine-to-machine communication is fast becoming a reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) represents only the first step in that process. In this post, I look at four ways in which managers in the manufacturing industry can exploit IoT solutions for commercial benefits:

1. Understand how your company can profit from IoT solutions

Industrial standards for IoT are still not clear, in part due to the wide range of flexible solutions that can be developed in any industry. Factory and operations managers need to define a series of objectives to understand how best they can benefit from connected devices. This is because while it is relatively easy to collect data, it is difficult to understand how to cluster it to avoid complexity in analysis. It is key to define first what type of data can be useful to increase efficiency, rather than trying to analyse huge amounts of data which is not necessarily relevant. By honing in on the aspects which will make the most difference to the business, in terms of profit, subsequent analysis becomes much simpler.

2. Clarify your security strategy

Security is a fundamental aspect to take into consideration when adopting any IIoT (The Industrial Internet of Things) solution. Consumers still hesitate when purchasing IoT products, in part due to safety and privacy concerns. Similarly, manufacturers are hesitant to adopt IoT solutions since data and app platforms can be subject to cyber-attacks as well. Operational processes and risks need to be coordinated around these safety issues, a topic Atos explored in their Journey 2020 report.

The IIoT is fundamentally changing the cyber-security landscape; the old logic of go-to-market quickly to gain market share over competitors does not apply anymore. Any device connected to the internet can become a weapon for hackers, and IT companies need to effectively secure their infrastructure before delivering to clients. Having real-time security analytics and a cyber-resilient system are essential when deploying IIoT solutions to protect against any potential attack.

3. Consider sustainability

Sooner rather than later, companies need to consider how they will ensure that their IoT solutions remains sustainable i.e. future proof. Their IoT strategy needs to define, among other things, what type and the expected amount of data they need and how to manage it effectively to minimize potential negative impacts. It is also crucial to understand how to manage potentially millions of connected devices, and how to build a scalable and reliable, distributed computing environment around the production factory.

Sustainability in the sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also offers opportunities. It is currently one of the hottest topics in the manufacturing industry. The adoption of sustainable strategies is something many manufacturers are beginning to take into consideration, since brand reputation depends on companies working to reduce the level of emissions and waste they generate.

IIoT will enable the creation of what researchers have termed a ‘circular economy’; the concept that puts re-usability and recyclability at the center of any type of process. Through IIoT solutions, managers will be able to extend the lifespan of machinery, thus cutting energy costs. Therefore, the development of smart-factories would likely result in a more ecological manufacturing industry, thus drastically reducing the impact of industrial processes in the environment.

4. Get out of your comfort zone

The industry is still in an early stage when it comes to IIoT adoption, but some pioneers are taking steps to ensure they are future leaders of the industry 4.0 era. The opportunity is out there, and decision-makers need to act rapidly to advance in this next wave of technology change.

It is fundamental to assess your own capabilities and role within the IoT ecosystem: will you push data or will you pull data? In a push model, you need to look at the smartness of your devices and data platform. If you pull data you need to look at your data analytics capabilities so you know when to ask for data and what data you need. Companies cannot bear the risk connected to data management for the entire production chain, therefore, it is necessary to build a partner ecosystem of buyers and vendors that co-operate for creating secured, efficient and scalable end-to-end solutions, leading to real added value in the production chain.

Internet of Things : My disappointment(s) with the Fibaro HomeCenter 2

Recently I started investigating and investing in Home Automation. I feel the market is readying itself for mainstream and some interesting products are now available. It started with me buying a set of Philips Hue light-bulbs, a motion sensor and a Raspberry Pi. Connecting these devices with the help of existing apps and some tinkering with open source ‘Home Assistant’ and ‘Home Bridge’ allowed me to create simple automation scenes and use Siri to set the lights in the living room and hallway.

This first success led me to think I could take the possibilities inside my house to the next level; I researched extensively possibilities of various Home Automation platforms. In Europe there are various systems available. In the end I decided for the Fibaro Home Center 2 system. Based on Z-Wave technology, which allows 2-way communications between central hub and device, with a mesh network to combat low connectivity situations it seemed the right choice. Fibaro also has a ‘Light’ version of this hub, but I wanted to have some serious strength running my IoT platform so opted for the strongest system. It also promised interconnection with my Hue, SONOS and (upcoming) Alexa systems, so I was really excited to get started.


Fibaro's compatibility claims
Source: https://www.fibaro.com/en/compatibility/

It turned out to be a terrible disappointment.

Before I describe my activities that led me to the final conclusion, there are a few things to note:

  1. There are 4 ways to access devices and sensors in the Fibaro system:
  • A simple panel that shows an on/off or volume/brightness slider.
  • Through a magic scene creator that works with simple colored boxes that allow you to do an IF…THEN scenario
  • A more complex colored boxes interface that allows more variables
  • The LUA programming language

Fibaro Colored Block 'programming'
Source: http://www.5smart.ru/page/kak-rabotaet-umnyy-dom

  1. I researched everything, I have seen more YouTube videos than I care to remember and have seen more programming examples that I wished for. I took a quick course on LUA programming.
  2. I am not stupid with DIY projects in house; electric cabling, switches, dimmers and wiring. Most of this stuff I have done in the past on my own. I understand the color coding of wires, the difference between Ground and Neutral and have had my fair share of accidentally touching a Live wire (at least once in a person’s live…).

Let me first give you an overview of my purchases from the local Domotica Shop in the Netherlands:

  • 1 Fibaro Controller Home Center 2
  • 3 x Fibaro Module Dimmer 2
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Single
  • 1 x Fibaro Module Switch Double

btw: these things are not cheap so I really researched (at least so I thought)

Secondly I will go into the various activities I undertook to get this box running the things I wanted.

Connectivity with Philips Hue lights and sensors

As far as I have researched it, there is no out of the box support in Fibaro for Philips Hue. There is the possibility to download a virtual device component that will connect to the individual Hue lights. Unfortunately this means I was unable to address the Hue lights in the visual programming interface of the Fibaro (a colored block system) and can only address the lights through the programming language LUA. This was a major set-back as I was let to believe integration between Hue and Fibaro would work out-of-the-box.

The Hue sensors such as the motion sensors and dimmers are not accessible through the Fibaro; maybe they could be accessible through the LUA programming interface, but I found no evidence for that.

Instead of being able to address the Hue lights in the ‘Magic Scenes’ or the ‘colored boxes’ interface, I had to install virtual devices using the Philips CLIP API Debugger. This would give me the API Access code that could then be used to activate the virtual devices. After that the virtual devices would become accessible in other code, that I had to write for the scenes. Are you still there?

Due to the lack of access to the Hue sensors, I would have to rely on the Fibaro sensors, which I hoped not to (to be honest I knew upfront that the ‘rely-on-Hue-sensors-part was going to be tricky as they do not support the Z Wave protocol in use by Fibaro).

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming

Connectivity with SONOS

I have 4 SONOS loudspeakers. 2 are connected in a stereo pair. One other is in the kitchen and one is upstairs in my study.

Fibaro shown as connected to SONOS
Source: https://www.fibaro.com/en/why-fibaro/

There was no out-of-the-box connectivity with the SONOS system. It required the download of a virtual device (remember those?). As a result I managed to connect to 1 SONOS loudspeaker. It became clear that I had to download a virtual device for every loudspeaker separately. After doing this I was able to start/stop the music and volume of 1 speaker. The others were not responsive. And the stereo-pair was nowhere to be found in the system. Moreover, if the one that worked had no active playlist, it would not do anything.

By now you will have guessed that no devices were easily accessible; all the work had to be done through the LUA programming language.

Conclusion: Could work, but would need a serious amount of manual programming.

Installation of Fibaro modules

So, as it turns out Fibaro on/off switches need power; makes sense right? As a result installing switches behind a light switch can only be done of the box behind the switch carries not only a live wire (brown), but also a neutral wire (blue). It turns out that that is not the case in my house. Maybe more modern houses have this or maybe in other countries, but my house is 28 years old and only has a brown (Live) and black (Switch) cable.

Luckily, Fibaro has a module called Dimmer 2, which can be installed if the neutral (blue) wire is absent. So all is well, no unfortunately not. The switch-boxes in the wall of my house are not deep enough for the combo of a light-switch and a Fibaro module. So I hunted the local DIY market for light switches with a very small footprint and with some clever wire maneuvering was able to fit everything, very snugly, into the switch-box. Following that I connected the module to the Fibaro controller and, voila, I could remotely operate the lights. Alas, the physical switch was not working anymore, which would really not make my wife very happy. I checked the wiring, looked at another 4 YouTube videos (warning, look at installation for “Dimmer 2”, otherwise you will get really confused).

Conclusion: Could work if your house is built to fit Fibaro or you do not mind some reconstruction of wall-mounted switch-boxes (including drilling new holes and putting in new wiring).

Conclusion and words of warning

I have no doubt that the Fibaro system will work, once you get the switches, dimmers and specific other Fibaro modules installed; but this fairyland only exists on the various Fibaro websites. No real life scenario worked for me. Existing wall-switches, existing Hue system and existing SONOS speakers could only be installed with great cost, either in time or with additional investments and serious physical changes in my house. I do not believe that house automation should go hand in hand with yielding a jackhammer to replace switch-boxes.

in conclusion, device-by-device:

  • SONOS – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Lights – no out of the box support of a SONOS system – no visibility in the graphical scene creator
  • Hue Sensors – no support
  • Fibaro Modules – not working in my electrical system

And a word of warning: the Fibaro website mentions interoperability with Apple HomeKit. This is only true for a very limited set of Fibaro modules/devices; a smart power-plug, a motion detector, a flood sensor and a door/window sensor.

So at the end of a week with not so much sleep and a lot of learning of new things, I concluded that this (rather expensive) set up was not for me and as a consequence I have requested the seller to take it all back; I hope they agree that this was a bust.

PS. I still have my Raspberry Pi running with Home Assistant and Home Bridge. I am very proud to show the Siri integration with the Philips HUE lights, the SONOS Speakers, the Honeywell EVO home heating system and the NEST smoke & CO2 detectors. At least some systems do work in my house, and at a fraction of the cost.

Lumia 950 – first reviews are coming online

lumia-950-xl-300x214Yesterday the first hands-on reviews of the Lumia 950 were published by thelarge’ American sites. I have read, viewed or listened to two; The Verge and WindowsCentral both have their reviews online.

What is striking is that The Verge, almost by tradition, is more negative about the Lumia in comparison to WindowsCentral. But in both cases the criticism is quite harsh;

There are many references to the simple design when compared to other high-end phones. It is described as cheap and plastic. Where the The Verge really does not recommend anything about the Lumia, WindowsCentral has found a few positive points in the specifications, the camera abilities and the Continuum addition, which is described as very special. WindowsCentral also makes clear, however, that they do not expect the average user to adopt Continuum.

As said, The Verge is not very positive, but WindowsCentral stresses that for users who choose the Microsoft ecosystem the Lumia 950 and 950 XL is the perfect phone. A phone that anyone who falls into that category certainly needs to buy.

Both sites are of course quite vocal at the sheer lack of applications. The Verge is the most negative and really says that almost nothing is available, while a somewhat more nuanced image is painted by WindowsCentral, but with the clear remark that there is a big gap between the quality and availability of applications for Android, IPhone and Windows Phone.

Is unclear, and no one dares to make any predictions, if Windows 10 will solve that problem.

Sources:

The Verge – Lumia 950 review

WindowsCentral – Lumia 950 review