Your browser is not supported. Please update it.

18 December 2019

AWS pushes Sitewise at industrial IoT, but does little to open cloud siloes

Last week, we analyzed the telco alliances and edge computing developments that Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced at its re:Invent conference. Wireless Watch’s sister service, Rethink IoT, was examining the event from its own angle, and focused on the expansion of the platforms that AWS hopes will put it in pole position to direct and monetize the IoT, from the cloud.

AWS IoT SiteWise was significantly expanded, but the longer list of announcements illustrated the point that all of this IoT advancement is for nothing, from the hyperscalers’ point of view, if they don’t start forcing consolidation among traditional business software providers.

The first stages of the IoT journey involve connecting a previously unconnected object to the Internet. This could be a direct connection to the device in question, or an indirect Internet connection, such as through a gateway that acts as the bridge between a Zigbee sensor and the wider world. Either way, once that device is connected, it becomes useful because it produces data, and can be combined into a business application. This could be using a sensor to monitor indoor temperatures, and then issuing an according command to a connected thermostat, inside a building automation deployment.

The next step is to connect that building automation application, in this example, to other applications – both for that user, but also for the wider world. The energy provider would want to have access to it, the equipment providers would want to see the data, and the facilities management teams could also glean insights. However, security, privacy, and regulatory concerns stand in the way, as well as the big question of whether intertwining these applications is good for the businesses’ bottom lines.

But if there is one group of companies that should be able to overcome these concerns, it’s the cloud computing providers. They are perfectly positioned to be universal translators for all the apps, taking measures to assure government regulators that the data they handle will be secure, and using their position at the top of the stack to enact changes in their product offerings that should flow down through the rest of the stack. Their central position makes them excellent candidates for data marketplaces, where the data itself could be monetized.

However, as with all markets, there are rivals and different approaches, which mean that applications inside one environment face further integration hurdles. Convincing AWS, Google and Microsoft to enable all their customers to connect to each other seamlessly has clear commercial challenges.

But there is no other way to reach the billions of connections that are associated with the IoT. It is relatively easy to achieve stage one, connectivity (the Internet of Things), but what most businesses actually want is stage two, which would be better named the Web of Things, in which services can be built on top of the connected devices to form networks of networks, joining together islands of information.

The cloud giants are in the best position to make this happen, though they have their own fear of a cloud-neutral world in which organizations use multiple clouds as a seamless, transparent data and analytics resource. Here, some clever telcos may have a chance to gain advantage, providing high value connectivity between enterprises and multiple clouds – especially if they can overcome their own competitive sensitivities and form partnerships in order to provide global coverage.

For now, the webscalers are adopting some open connections, while trying to establish their own platforms as categorically superior for all IoT and web activities.

AWS SiteWise was unveiled in preview mode last year, but has now gone into general availability. It is a service designed to collect and organize industrial equipment data. This is a service that will catch the eye of the likes of Siemens, Bosch and GE, as well as dozens of other major manufacturers of industrial equipment.

Many of those vendors have been experimenting with providing their own platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings in conjunction with their physical assets, as an attempt to get into the services game, and while many will be using AWS for their hosting needs, they may also see AWS stealing their customers. This will leave them with the same choice that many telcos have already made – whether to persist with the investment in their own cloud and PaaS platforms, leveraging their specific locations and sector knowledge, or to throw in the towel on that front and make alliances with the cloud giants, in order to extend the reach of their core products and services.

AWS SiteWise provides a way to link industrial gateways to Amazon’s cloud, where their data can be analyzed and presented to staff. The SiteWise software can be installed on common third party gateways, or on an AWS Snowball Edge box, a device that supports on-premises edge computing processing as well as data migration.

There are five new features that should improve the attractiveness of SiteWise. First, data can now be collected via MQTT and REST application programming interfaces (APIs), rather than just through OPC-UA. Second, users can create virtual models of their facilities, to understand their operational environments better.

Third, AWS has added new transforms and compute metrics, for running on the user’s data, and fourth, it has also provided the ability to publish a live data stream, which can be accessed using MQTT subscriptions, for pushing data to other applications.

Finally, AWS launched SiteWise Monitor, a tool that will create a “fully-managed web application”, which promises to provide enterprise users with visibility into the equipment data stored in SiteWise. This lets users build dashboards to share internally, as getting people to understand the data being collected remains one of the largest problems in the IoT.