The Internet of Things (IoT) has been generating a significant buzz of late, with everyone from the usual tech journalists to scaremongering tabloids jumping on board. Underneath all the stories about data privacy, spamming fridges and IoT boosterism, something serious is going on that has the potential to benefit the bottom lines of hosting providers and the data center industry.
The Internet of Things can be thought of as the proliferation of interconnected devices, many of which include sensors, and all of which have a connection to the Internet or a private network of some sort. The benefits for the hosting industry are clear. The IoT is all about data and the smart use of that data. As processing power and WiFi capabilities find their way into millions of sensor equipped devices, there will be a flood of data to be processed and the need for web services to make that data useful.
One of the biggest IoT-related stories last month has been the surprise purchase of Nest by Google. The search and advertising giant spent $3.2 billion dollars on the company behind the Nest thermostat, an enormous amount for a young company with revenues that only just reach $300 million. There’s no doubt that a big part of the motivation for the purchase is Tony Fadell, Nest’s founder and in his time at Apple, one of the designers behind the iPod. But, great as Fadell is, he’s not a billion dollar man, so we have to think that the buyout is a strong sign that Google is getting serious about smart devices, which is a strong indication that the IoT is on the up.
According to Cisco Chief Executive, John Chambers “The Internet of Things, I think will be the biggest leverage point for IT in the next 10 years, $14 trillion in profits from that one concept alone.”
While the Internet of Things is a fairly novel idea in the consumer space, industry has been putting the idea to use for years. RFID tags are by no means a novel invention, they have been around for decades, but over the past few years, as mobile technology and computational logistics have developed, they have become an increasingly important part of how businesses manage supply chains and shipping. Even a simple application for RFID tags like identifying shipping containers helps automate processes that used to be labor and administration intensive. RFID tags, which basically serve to identify objects in the real world, have been put to use in dozens of industries, from aircraft maintenance to health care.
Apple’s iBeacon technology, which caught the attention of many at this year’s Super Bowl, are a more advanced extension of the same idea. iBeacon’s are low-powered radio devices that can send out a unique identifying code that can be picked up by nearby iOS and Android devices. They’re also capable of micro-location geofencing — GPS isn’t useful at small scales and inside buildings, but, using iBeacons, a smart device will be able to exactly pinpoint its position. Because those devices have Internet access, the beacons can be used to trigger a number of location and context specific actions on the devices.
The MetLife stadium, where the Super Bowl took place, had dozens of iBeacons installed around the stadium, which were used to send location relevant promotions to nearby devices that had the NFL mobile app installed. That’s a fairly prosaic application, but we could also think about how iBeacons could be used in retail. Image entering a clothing store, being sent a personalized greeting via your iPhone, then being guided to the aisle containing exactly what you want, and informed of products that match the pair of pants you selected and scanned.
Of course, the commercial opportunities abound, and that’s the application most are focused on, but iBeacons and similar technology like NFC have the potential to revolutionize many areas of daily life, from shopping and driving to art galleries and sightseeing.
At its core, the Internet of Things is about changing objects into services. Even the proverbially mundane doormat becomes a useful source of data when it’s connected to the Internet and given a couple of sensors. That data, combined with data from multiple other connected devices, becomes a map of the world at an incredibly fine resolution. The scope for building services that manage and exploit that data is extensive.
Devices like Nest’s thermostat, the Philips Hue smart lightbulbs, and Apple’s iBeacon are the tip of the iceberg. As money floods into the IoT industry from large corporations like Google, we can expect to see an ever increasing number of startups throwing their own products into the ring. More connected devices means more data, and that can only be good news for data center and hosting companies placed to make the most of the boom.