As organizations in many industries start to make concrete plans for the Internet of Things (IoT), emphasis is shifting from visions of new use cases, towards the practical challenges of deploying large numbers of devices, often with high requirements for security, reliability and low latency. Many solutions in the first wave of IoT platforms for industrial and vertical market use have been mainly concerned with connecting the devices and collecting and analysing the data they generate. But now, many players are also focusing on the next step – how all those connected objects will communicate with one another.
Google and others call this IoT orchestration, meaning multiple connected devices being “aware of each other and working together”. This is not to be confused with orchestration in the software-defined networking (SDN) sense, which involves specific emerging standards and technologies. Those orchestrators certainly will be used to coordinate and manage IoT networks, where the devices are attached to virtualized network elements. Google’s idea of IoT orchestration is related, but could be achieved with many architectures.
At a conference in Silicon Valley earlier this year, Wayne Piekarski, a senior developer advocate for Google, said: “When you walk in your home, the lights come on and coffee machine goes on. People don’t want to control a single light bulb, they’re going to work with multiple devices, which means working with multiple manufacturers.”
Currently, users have to buy one product and download its app, but companies like Google, looking to manage all these items from its clouds – and monetize the data – want to decouple the objects and the apps, so developers can easily work across different hardware as they do in Google’s Android world. Google has Android, Brillo and Weave as the basis of its attempt to drive an open software environment for the IoT, with the ultimate goal being its ‘physical web’ vision, now supported by an open source effort, in which all connected devices would work together without the need for separate apps.
The issues of orchestration, cooperation and hardware/app decoupling become more complex and critical when suppliers look outside the smart home – Google’s current main focus – to the Industrial IoT. Here, it may be critically important to resource efficiency, performance, security and availability that connected devices are aware of one another and work seamlessly together.
As the IoT spreads out from consumer into business- and even mission-critical enterprise services, expectations of reliability and availability will rise, and will be incorporated into service level agreements (SLAs). These SLAs will become more important, and more demanding, as organizations start to exchange IoT data, driving orchestration and mediation from an internal IT issue to an inter-organizational one.
Mind Commerce, which has recently published a report on the topic, cites Google’s definition of IoT orchestration, but adds to it, writing in a blog post: “Mind Commerce IoT Orchestration definition: Balances and directs IoT resources with consideration towards the privacy and security needs of IoT resource owners/managers and the needs of resource requesting entities … A related and often interchangeable term, mediation, represents a function that routes or acts on data/information passing between network elements and network operations.”
Standards in these areas will be essential, or potential IIoT business cases may be stalled because there will be no uniform and fully trusted way to share sensitive data and ensure performance. The work may be done in open source, by conventional standards bodies, or by individual vendors. It is highly likely that Google will be a guiding hand, harnessing some of its existing assets, such as Brillo and Weave, and its acquisition of API platform Apigee.
Apigee supports management, integration and orchestration of APIs (application programming interfaces) from its platform, along with associated predictive analytics. As such, it will enhance Google’s cloud offerings, including its IoT systems. One of the most recent additions to its line-up was Apigee Link, described as an API-first IoT product for connecting devices to the Internet.
Chet Kapoor, CEO of Apigee, said before the Google deal: “APIs are a critical enabler for the Internet of Things” and claimed the API-first approach, combined with Link’s end-to-end connectivity and mediation, would enable “any device maker to become a digital platform business and to take advantage of the IoT.”
It seems likely Google will move Apigee and Link to the heart of its work on IoT orchestration, especially as Link leverages the open source project Zetta, initiated by Apigee. That could feed into the search giant’s preference to work through open source programs in its quest to drive standards and so accelerate progress in key technologies.