The Internet of Things: It’s All Around Us

It seems as though everyone is talking about the Internet of Things (IoT), but what does it mean to you as an individual? More than just a buzzword, whether we realize it or not, IoT is actually changing our lives. Previously known as the “Internet of Everything,” “machine-to-machine (M2M),” “physical computing,” and even “ubiquitous computing,” IoT is bridging physical and digital domains so that both can be monitored and managed remotely and autonomously.

What does the Internet of Things mean to You?

Electronics, including sensors and actuators, are continually getting smaller, cheaper, and more powerful. As such, they are being embedded in objects everywhere to provide new capabilities. For example, without embedded sensors, traffic lights don’t have the intelligence to know if cars are nearby and instead use timers to cycle their changes. As you know, waiting for a traffic light to change when you’re the only car on the road seems like an annoying waste of time.

However, traffic lights with embedded sensors could not only detect the presence of cars, but also determine the direction and speed they are traveling. With these capabilities, lights could change as you approach the intersection, preventing you from having to slow down or even stop and wait. Taking this one step further, imagine traffic lights that can communicate with each other. As multiple cars approach the intersection, the lights decide the most efficient timing so that all traffic safely and efficiently passes through the intersection.

If traffic lights can communicate with one another, they could also communicate with other systems. The capabilities are limitless and ever more beneficial for us all. Smart traffic lights that communicate and make decisions could also leverage data from other systems, such as weather and traffic, to improve safety or avoid congestion further down the road.

How Does it Work?

Even though devices like traffic lights could communicate with each other, they probably will never have the capacity to analyze all the data surrounding them and make intelligent decisions on their own. This is where the Internet comes in. It connects small things with limited capabilities to other, more powerful systems and technologies that can process, analyze, and make decisions.

Technologies, like those provided by TIBCO, allow organizations to develop extremely powerful applications that can aggregate data from myriad sources such as traffic lights, weather systems, smart vehicles, and others, and turn that data into meaningful information to make the physical world a better, safer place.

Architecture of the Internet of Things

The Internet we all know and use is built on a point-to-point communications architecture. When you open your web browser and navigate to a webpage, your computer sends a request to the hosting server and waits for a response. Although this architecture works for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of requests that web servers receive daily, it will not work for the hundreds of billions of devices that are estimated to make up the Internet of Things.

To scale appropriately, the Internet of Things needs architecture built with publish/subscribe technologies. TIBCO products such as TIBCO Enterprise Message Service™ and TIBCO® FTL messaging provide such technologies. The idea is that devices (things) will publish data from their embedded sensors to a messaging layer that other interested applications can subscribe to, and react as necessary. Further, applications like TIBCO BusinessWorks™ integration platform allow legacy systems that are incapable of subscribing to a messaging bus (for example, databases) to receive and pass messages. Data in long-term storage can also be included in analyses or passed through rules engines, such as TIBCO BusinessEvents® complex event processing, where business logic can be enforced.

Once data has been persisted in databases, applications such as TIBCO® Enterprise Runtime for R (TERR) can analyze the data and make predictions. Data can be analyzed against predictive models, and more easily and quickly understood by TIBCO Spotfire® visual analytics. Concurrently, data from devices can also be passed to TIBCO StreamBase® streaming event processing and displayed on a TIBCO® Live Datamart dashboard. If StreamBase detects any anomalies in the data or identifies actions that need to be taken, it can pass those results to other systems directly and even back into the messaging bus.

In many cases, physical devices have the ability to broadcast their data, but don’t have the ability to subscribe to and listen for messages from other devices. For example, some of the traffic lights that are available today broadcast their current state (red, yellow, green, flashing, fault), but cannot receive messages from neighboring lights. In addition, devices that are battery powered don’t have enough processing power or memory to support the entire TCP/IP stack like many of those that use publish/subscribe technologies.

For devices that don’t have the native ability to subscribe to a messaging bus or support TCP/IP technologies, StreamBase complex event processing custom-built connectivity adapters can be used to communicate directly, allowing all devices to “speak the same language.”

How the Internet of Things architecture would look using TIBCO technologies.
How the Internet of Things architecture would look using TIBCO technologies.

TIBCO technologies are hardware agnostic, meaning it doesn’t matter what type of hardware, protocols, or transports the devices use, or their purpose. These technologies supply connections and work with any transport method necessary so that every last bit of information can be extracted from the Internet of Things.

The TIBCO IoT Value Proposition

TIBCO technologies allow all devices to communicate with each other and with other systems in a fast, reliable, and scalable environment. The capabilities allow historical and real-time information to be combined so that insights can be quickly generated to reveal what is happening between physical and digital domains.

The three pillars of an Internet of Things architecture:

  • Integration: Connection of all disparate devices and backend systems into a single, cohesive channel.
  • Analytics: The ability to gain insights from historical and real-time data and leverage what you learn.
  • Event Processing: The ability to take action on events as they happen in real time, and even before they happen when possible.

Conclusion

As we continue to move toward connecting anything and everything, those who are working to make it happen need to reassess their goals and understand the technologies necessary to get there. Integration, event processing, and analytics will certainly be on the front line of the connected future.