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20 March 2015

Amazon buys 2lemetry for ThingFabric IoT data platform

Amazon is a quiet giant in the IoT, given its massive retail presence that seems to sell nearly every smart home gadget. But more important is it Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing platform, which has been bolstered this week with the acquisition of 2lemetry and its ThingFabric platform.

While the Echo home audio and AI system is certainly a cool product in the consumer side, Amazon’s expertise lies in powering massive deployments of cloud instances, that are used by third parties to run computational processes in the cloud on an as-needed basis.

Amazon has, like all the cloud giants, positioned itself as an ideal platform to host IoT deployments and big data analytics, but it has made fewer specific announcements than its rivals in this area. The new acquisition looks set to add new IoT-specific middleware, developer and big data capabilities to AWS, and could even be relevant to Amazon’s expected push into smart home and other connected consumer services.

The company has not said much about the acquisition, but 2lemetry itself has confirmed that it will still support existing customers. ThingFabric specializes in taking data sent to it via any protocol and then using it inside an application – or sending it on to another app, all in real-time.

ThingFabric positions itself as a legacy-friendly and hardware agnostic system that can take inputs from any platform and accommodate them via APIs and dev-tools. It has already been integrated with AWS, and when Amazon demonstrated its new Lambda system to 2lemetry’s Ryan Burke, he described Lambda as “a perfect complement to our real-time data services.”

Lambda is essentially a new approach to running programs or services in AWS. Instead of requiring the user to be continuously managing the AWS virtual machines, which need to be configured ahead of time, Lambda allows a user to set rules that will be automatically followed should the operational requirements change – meaning that the AWS deployment should scale to match the actual user requirements.

CTO Werner Vogels described it as “an event-driven computing service for dynamic applications,” when it was launched back in November. The approach would allow developers to write complex applications much more easily – allowing data-ingest to trigger events and processes further down a chain of linked cloud applications. In theory, this makes it much more straightforward to create the kinds of applications that will be needed to run IoT apps at scale – with Amazon enjoying the revenue from the developers renting out its AWS servers. As well as Lambda, Amazon also has its Kinesis real-time data ingest platform, which launched in 2013 and can be viewed as the first proper
step into the IoT for AWS.

2lemetry was founded in 2011, and has raised $9m in funding to date. The purchase price is almost certainly north of that figure, but Amazon has declined to let the world know how much ThingFabric is worth. This kind of secrecy makes it particularly hard to value sectors of the IoT industry, given that so many startups are acquired behind closed doors and go quiet.

In terms of fitting into a trend, the Amazon buy conforms to the pattern of established businesses pouncing on startups and merging them into existing operations. The buy fits perfectly with the quiet arms race that seems to emerging, with power blocs in standards, hardware and software coming to the fore.

But for all the cloud computing possibilities, there might be a more directly-related angle on the 2lemetry buy – as 2lemetry Incoming is a platform that “enables real life engagements with customers through location sensing (wearables and beacons) and real time integration with CRM data.”

With Bluetooth beacons from Gimbal, a retail store can detect users based on their handsets, and push relevant promotional information to them to try and influence a purchase. This also allows a store to try and monetize passing footfall traffic, by encouraging nearby shoppers inside based on a time-limited promotion of flash sale, and real-time control of digital signage.

If a system can link a handset to an identity, a much more personalized experience can be provided. But a better way of identifying a buyer is by linking the positional data from the phone to a face – by way of facial recognition technology, which 2lemetry says it can provide. That functionality brings to mind the scene from Minority Report, where a person’s eyes are used to identify them at the GAP, but this sort of user-experience is possible today – and 2lemetry (and now Amazon) is trying to monetize the process by securing a cut of the additional revenue that is generated from a more engaging and immersive shopping experience.