Tag Archives: SmartHome

A Tale of Two Outages Featuring Amazon, Microsoft And An Un-Smart Home

Update: Following the subsequent official announcements of Amazon and Microsoft I updated the post with more information on the outages and relevant links

Here it is again. A major outage in Amazon’s AWS data center in North Virginia takes down the cloud service in Amazon’s biggest region, and with it, taking down a multitude of cloud-based services such as Netflix, Tinder, AirBnB and Wink. This is not the first time it happens, and not even the worst. At least this time it didn’t last for days. This time it was their DynamoDB that went down and took down a host of other services, as Amazon describes in a lengthy blog post.

And Amazon is not alone in that. Microsoft today also suffered a major outage in its Skype service, which rendered the popular VoIP service unusable. In their update Skype reported the root cause was a bad configuration change:

We released a larger-than-usual configuration change, which some versions of Skype were unable to process correctly therefore disconnecting users from the network. When these users tried to reconnect, heavy traffic was created and some of you were unable to use Skype’s free services …

This time it was Microsoft’s Skype service, but we already saw how Microsoft’s Azure cloud can also suffer major outage, all on account of a configuration update.

One interesting effect was exposed due to this recent outage that is worth noting: up till now the impact was limited to online cloud services such as our movie or dating service. But now, with the penetration of the Internet of Things (IoT) to our homes, the effects of such cloud outage reach far beyond, and into our own homes and daily utilities, as nicely narrated by David Gewirtz’ piece on ZDnet, who tried voice-commanding its Amazon Echo (nicknamed “Alexa”) to turn on the lights and perform other home tasks and was left unanswered during the outage. The loss of faith in Alexas (they have 2 of them) which David described goes beyond technology realm and into psychological effects which extend beyond my field of expertise.

One conclusion could be that cloud computing is bad and should not be used. That would of course be the wrong conclusion, certainly when compared to outages in data centers. As I highlighted in the past, following simple guidelines can significantly reduce the impact of your cloud service to such infrastructure outages. If you are running a mission-critical system you may find that relying on a single cloud provider is not enough and may wish to use multi-cloud strategy to spread the risk and use disaster recovery policies between them. This will become increasingly important as the Internet of Things becomes ubiquitous in our homes and businesses, as heavily promoted by Amazon, Google, Samsung and the likes which combine IoT with their own cloud services.

One thing is for sure: if you connect your door locks to a cloud-based service – make sure you keep a copy of the good-old hard-copy key.

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Google Extends Its Internet of Things Strategy, Offers Open Research Grants

A few days ago Google announced the launch of the Open Web of Things, an open innovation and research program around the IoT. As part of the new initiative Google published a call for research proposals on IoT with focus on three main areas:

  1. user interface and application development
  2. privacy & security
  3. systems & protocols research

Google offers the elected participants grants, as well as access to hardware, software and systems from Google. Proposal submission is due next month and kick-off expected coming Spring.

Google has had a rough year 2014. Just this week JPMorgan lowered estimates for Google’s revenues, and shortly after Google stock hit a 52-week low. One of the main reasons for that is that Google’s traditional source of revenue, the web search ads, seems to shrink with the transition from desktop to mobile and related disruptors (such as Amazon and Facebook).

As traditional sources of revenue shrink, Google is investing in developing new sources of revenue, aligned with the emerging trends. Google has been promoting a clear strategy around the Internet of Things. Google’s strategy has several tiers, aimed at tackling IoT from several directions, both horizontally (standards, protocols) and vertically (by use cases).

Part of Google’s IoT strategy is done through internal development such as Google Glass devices and Google Now app.

Another significant part of Google’s IoT strategy is done through M&A, most notably the acquisition of smart thermostat manufacturer Nest, which subsequently acquired Dropcam and the “Smart Home” startup Revolv (and subsequently shut down Revolv’s product line in a somewhat controversial move).

Google also places significance in open collaboration with the community through open standardization such as the Thread Group open alliance and open projects such as the Physical Web.

It has been a hectic year for Google, with many changes and uncertainties, and transition into new areas. Google is betting on The Internet of Things as one of the future directions for the company, and has been investing seriously in that direction. It would be interesting to see what plan holds for 2015.

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Will the Internet of Things talk Googlish?

Things definitely change fast in the landscape of the Internet of Things. On my last blog post less than 2 weeks ago I discussed standardization efforts in IoT and covered the announcement of a new consortium called Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), led by Samsung, Intel, Dell and others.

And just a week later we got the new heavy gun in the field: Google announced, through its recently acquired company Nest, a new industry group called Thread, together with Samsung, ARM Holdings and others, to define the communications standard for the smart home. The new standard is said to solve reliability, security, power and compatibility issues for connecting products around the home.

Thread-Group

This announcement joins Microsoft’s announcement from beginning of this month about joining AllSeen Alliance as the 51st member, which was followed by last week’s announcement of 7 other new members, making AllSeen Alliance 58 members strong to date (on my last blog post earlier this month they were only 51, just think about it…).

Google’s new consortium joins other industry consortia. How do these different initiatives relate to one another? This question becomes even more interesting when noting that Samsung is a member of both OIC and Thread Group (see footnote), and that Apple’s list of HomeKit partners includes Broadcom (another member of OIC) and Haier (member of AllSeen Alliance).

It may be that in these early stages organizations are reluctant to bet on a single horse and distribute the risk across different consortia. It may also be that some of these initiatives are not really competitive but rather complementary. Reading through the statement of the new Thread Group seems that they target a new networking protocol (to supersede WiFi, Bluetooth and the likes) for IoT to be more energy-efficient and scalable, which may be complementary to the mandate declared by OIC which seems to deal with higher layers. But as statements are very high level and tend to change, we will have to patiently wait and see how it plays out.

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* Update: in a subsequent post I explored Samsung’s play in IoT in greater detail. read more here.

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The common language of the Internet of Things

On my last post I described the chronology of the Internet Of Things (IoT) since the early 1990s and until these days, and the drive for its evolution. On that post we’ve established the motivation and the $$ to invest in the IoT. So what is the next step?

Since the Internet of Things is all about enabling devices of various kinds to talk to each other, we need to have a common language for these devices to talk. This becomes more acute when when involving devices of different vendors and providers.

Do you remember the Internet in its early days? back then there were islands of isolated networks and we were missing a common language to enable them to talk between them. In the internet case the solution was the invent of Internet Protocol (IP), which standardized the communication “language” and addressing system (together with higher-level standards which followed such as TCP, UDP and HTTP). These open standards paved the way for the mass adoption of the internet and its worldwide spread. In fact, IP got caught up with its own success, with IPv4 (4th version of the protocol) nearing exhaustion of its address space, and mandating the inevitable switch to IPv6, through a sometimes-painful migration process (as many old systems were hard-wired to the IPv4 format).

ascore-2014-jan-ipv4v6-standalone-1200x710

What is the “Internet Protocol” of the Internet Of Things?
This question drove the formation of a new standardization body which was announced yesterday and which is backed by a consortium of industry leaders such as Samsung, Intel and Dell. The new consortium, called Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), is said to focus on :

… delivering a specification, an open source implementation, and a certification program for wirelessly connecting devices.

oic-diagram

This initiative joins other initiatives in the area, most notably AllSeen Alliance which was founded in December and already has 51 members including LG Electronics, Panasonic, Qualcomm, Cisco another and others, and the newest member – Microsoft – which joined just earlier this month. During its Worldwide Developers Conference last month Apple also announced a similar initiative called HomeKit based on iOS devices. These initiatives are all aimed at standardizing the language in which devices will talk in the Internet of Things.

Standardization is an important step in maturing of any technology. Furthermore, open source standards, APIs, and reference implementations, have become a predominant part of the IT industry, and emerging technologies are now expected to provide them. An excellent example of that is Cloud Computing, which grew the open standards of OpenStack and CloudStack that are backed by impressive communities incorporating industry leader corporation, service integrators and individual contributors worldwide alike. Reviewing the recently-released statement of work by the OIC shows it is well aware of this expectation and is set to provide that.

Open standards and open source implementation is the right step for IoT. We should only hope that the communities grow and establish good collaboration between the members and between the different alliances (and avoid needless politics) so that they could put forth the right standard to meet the needs, and more importantly – adapt them to the changing needs in an agile manner for the benefit of all.

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* Update: in a subsequent post I cover a new IoT standardization initiative by Google. read more here.

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The Internet of Things: Vision and Execution

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the hot buzzword these days. Everyone’s talking about it, there’s proliferation of ventures around it, and trillions of dollars are invested in it.

According to a new research published by IDC last week:

a transformation is underway that will see the worldwide market for IoT solutions grow from $1.9 trillion in 2013 to $7.1 trillion in 2020.

Although IoT seems like a relatively new hype, the concept has in fact been discussed since the early 1990s and the term was coined back in 1999 by Kevin Ashton. Around the same year Microsoft launched a new concept video (highlighted last week by Gizmodo) sharing its futuristic vision for the Smart Home.

Microsoft may not have used the term IoT on that video, but it certainly effectively preached it, talking about things such as opening the door using our voice or eye scan, locating our spouse on the family car via the car’s computer, sending our children messages to their “Pocket PC”, or having the trash bin adding groceries to the shopping list.

What seemed like science fiction only 15 years ago, is now a reality coming true. With the wireless and mobile internet readily available everywhere, smartphones (anyone said “Pocket PC”?) being a commodity even for children, GPS positioning available from satellites straight to our devices, telematics prevailing in vehicles and other devices, and much more, the infrastructure is in place to connect everything together, not just PCs and smartphones but literally every device from our toaster to our car. According to Gartner’s research:

The Internet of Things (IoT), which excludes PCs, tablets and smartphones, will grow to 26 billion units installed in 2020 representing an almost 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion in 2009, according to Gartner, Inc. Gartner said that IoT product and service suppliers will generate incremental revenue exceeding $300 billion, mostly in services, in 2020. It will result in $1.9 trillion in global economic value-add through sales into diverse end markets.

With such economic drive there’s no wonder that everyone is investing in IoT. from startups to Apple and Google, from voice commands (e.g. Apple Siri) to location-based tracking apps (e.g. FindMe), from smart TV (e.g. Amazon FireTV) to self-learning thermostat (e.g. Nest, startup recently acquired by Google). Even humans are instrumented nowadays (see rumors yesterday that Apple will launch it’s iWatch at an October event, with a multitude of health and fitness sensors).

Microsoft’s absence in this field is particularly evident, in light of their clear vision 15 years ago as well as their complete domination of the software market at the time. Was it the company’s size? was it lack of agility? Whatever the reason may be, it is clear that whether the vision was good, execution did not follow, leaving Microsoft to now chase other major players.

According to Cosmology, the early universe underwent exponential expansion, in what is known as the Inflationary Model. Similarly, we are now in the early stages of the Internet of Things, and with more and more devices instrumented and connected every day, we are now witnessing the inflationary model of the Internet of Things. So hold on for the ride, and make sure not to be left behind on vision and execution.

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