Mac Devine, IBM: Cloud Computing Will Play a Major Role in the Evolution of IoT

10 September 2014

A Conversation with Mac Devine, VP & CTO, IBM

As the buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) gets louder, it is easy to see this important new technological development as an innovation that is manifesting itself in a vacuum. In fact, it represents the next critical step-change that will define the impact that technology has on society.

To help connect the dots among cloud, mobility, big data, as well as other technology-enabled developments that are re-defining the way we work, live and play, we caught up with Mac Devine, CTO at IBM’s Cloud Services Division, and Director of Big Blue’s CloudFirst Innovation initiative.  Here is what he had to say:

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A Conversation with Mac Devine, VP & CTO, IBM

As the buzz around the Internet of Things (IoT) gets louder, it is easy to see this important new technological development as an innovation that is manifesting itself in a vacuum. In fact, it represents the next critical step-change that will define the impact that technology has on society.

To help connect the dots among cloud, mobility, big data, as well as other technology-enabled developments that are re-defining the way we work, live and play, we caught up with Mac Devine, CTO at IBM’s Cloud Services Division, and Director of Big Blue’s CloudFirst Innovation initiative.  Here is what he had to say:

What is the relationship between current cloud and mobility technologies the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Mac Devine: The emergence of the cloud computing was a tipping point that allowed many organizations to get access to sophisticated infrastructures at a pace and at a cost that enabled them to do things that they ordinarily wouldn’t have been able to do with their own IT resources. It gave them a way of experimenting with new business models.  It also encouraged organizations to pursue innovation strategies based on experimentation, because they could fail fast and learn.  Failing fast is a good thing as long as you don’t spend a lot of money doing it.

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Cloud took us down that path first, and then mobile technology made us even more free and agile, not only from an infrastructure standpoint, but also from an applications standpoint. The way that systems interact with individuals has been completely transformed. Perhaps more importantly, what mobile really did was to converge the consumer and the enterprise spaces. The two had always been divided from each other until mobile phones and tablets really converged those two dimensions.

As a result, consumers (who are also enterprise end-users) could access corporate resources directly through their mobile devices. This has caused enterprises to start caring much more about their digital channels to internal and external users.  It became important to understand the rate and pace at which new cloud-enabled solutions could be rolled out…often to mobile endpoints.  It allowed enterprises to experiment with new things and reach new markets.

These evolutions – in mobility and the cloud – have fed momentum into developments in the Internet of Things.  While embedded systems and sensors have been around for some time — as have business intelligence and analytics — it was the cloud and mobile technologies and the development of “systems of discovery” – which are at the crossroads of data and analytics and embedded sensors – that are now allowing the industry to go to the next level with IoT.

We are seeing evidence of this with the venture capital (VC) community investing in IoT companies.  These companies are introducing embedded systems in numerous products – from televisions and refrigerators, to trains and traffic lights and many others. The cost point for those and the intelligence that is embedded in them has reached a level where you can really do some amazing things. So I think the technology has finally reached a point where what used to be the art of the impossible is now becoming the art of the possible.

So with the dawn of the Internet of Things and the embedded systems that you were talking about, almost any product can have an information service associated.  How does this change the marketplace?

Mac Devine: It is going to have rapid evolutionary effect on the market. I think what we are seeing is that, today, continuously operated services can adapt quickly to the changes in the market. When new technologies become available, I am able to plug in those new technologies underneath the application program interfaces (APIs). This creates an API economy in which “composable” services provide the opportunity to adapt to changes in the market or in new technological capabilities. As a developer, it means you can start with one particular technology, and then if a better technology emerges, then you can plug it in under your API structure and the same product can be off and running with an entirely new set of capabilities without any delay.

I also think that from a data and analytics standpoint, there is going to be a significant shift from doing things in batches, to applying real-time streaming analytics models. If you have embedded sensors out in the world, then you are probably going to want to react to what those sensors are telling you much more quickly than you have in the past – when things came in bunches in some sort of pre-determined schedule.

That’s an important shift. In order to match the rate and pace at which technology is changing, we have to become more agile in terms of how we compose services, how we deliver services, and how we maintain those services through a continuous delivery and continuous operations model. The companies that do that the best will be the ones that succeed in this space. The ones that struggle on the pivot between the old world and the new world are going to be significantly challenged to maintain their competitiveness.

Can you explain more about what you mean by “composed services” and how they leverage the IoT?

Mac Devine: Traditionally, if I’m designing a service, I’m also the one building and delivering that service. But when I compose – or orchestrate – a service, I might be bringing together a combination of services that I designed myself, coupled with services and capabilities that are brought to me some other cloud providers.  These could be a combination of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions, or an Infrastructure-as– service (IaaS) provider, or a Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider.

People are becoming increasingly used to these new technology consumption models, where they can compose solutions that consist of individual applications and services that were developed for slightly different reasons but could be applicable for a new solution – with a new purpose – that they want to build.

So when you’re talking about composed services, you’re actually delivering a composite service that consists of multiple entities, some of which you may have created, and some of which you may have gotten from different providers out there. You deliver something brand new by composing those parts together.

That composite service is then presented to the customer as if it were a single service from a single provider. You see people do this all the time with platforms like FourSquare, for example. People are building interesting apps using FourSquare or Trulia.  Those offerings are just building blocks for new services that incorporate them.

That is really different. That’s the kind of world that we live in now, and I think you will see more of that, especially as it relates to the Internet of Things. You have this spontaneous innovation that needs to happen, and the cloud community as well as the IoT community, are looking for these basic building blocks that they can compose and then extend easily into new things that can really change our lives.

This is especially important now, as we build a new IoT ecosystem.  It will make a tremendous difference in the emerging real time-society, whether it’s in healthcare, or smarter traffic management, or environmental services, or security video surveillance and face recognition, or technologies for our soldiers in the field.

How do you see network infrastructure keeping up with all of the data traffic and connectivity that will be needed to support this broad gamut of new IoT applications and interactions?

Mac Devine: I think the networks are not as far along as the mobile and cloud elements. Right now there is a lot of exploration taking place in the network space for IoT solutions.  That said, there are not a lot of full app-scale IoT solutions to really test the full implications as it reaches its full potential.

As a result, I think that network equipment providers and some of the software-defined network activity from software vendors are not yet making a difference in the IoT space. I anticipate that in the next year you will see significant innovation starting to emerge in the networks

We are starting to see that within the IoT Consortium, for instance. AT&T and Cisco are participating in this Consortium and they seem to be “all in” now to make this Internet of Things concept work. I think you’ll see a lot more changes happening on the networking side of the house – not just on the mobile edge or the cloud edge – but also the in the middle for the backbone and long-haul segments of the network.

How does working with Technicolor and other partners help to drive your IOT strategy?

Mac Devine: I share the same vision that the folks at Technicolor Virdata has. Let me put it in perspective.

What is really interesting – in terms of solutions in the IoT space – is that you can gather up tons of information from a wide variety of sensors and devices, but if you can’t get the insight – if you can’t discover business value and take action from that information – then you just have more data, and a bigger problem to solve.

So this intersection between getting information from a wide variety of sources in real time, and being able to stream information into an analytic engine so that you can make decisions, and then act upon those decisions – is a challenge that Technicolor Virdata is addressing.

That’s one of the reasons why we at IBM are working with them as part of our SoftLayer ecosystem. They are taking advantage of the value proposition that we have at SoftLayer, and their vision is very much aligned with where IBM wants to go as it relates to providing these kinds of analytic data services that interact with embedded systems.

It sounds like integrating all of these new data sources into the Internet of Things could take so-called “analysis paralysis” to a whole new level. Does making sense of this huge volume of data get pushed into consumable tools that ordinary business decision-makers can use, or does it require specialized data scientists to play a critical role?

Mac Devine: That is an excellent question. If you look at some of the publications and analyst reviews, they are calling this the “age of the data scientist.” One of the reasons for this is because getting those business insights and knowing what to do with them is very difficult to accomplish.

What we have seen over the last 6-12 months within the VC community is that some very interesting companies have come out of stealth mode to offer the ability to provide more visibility into these big data problems. These new companies are working to unlock information to the masses and make data available to all.  They are looking for ways to break down the barrier to understanding what the data is trying to tell you. These new capabilities will make is so that you do not require a couple of PhDs in order to understand you data.

That is where a lot of the innovation is happening right now; they are lowering the barriers to understanding what the data tells you and lowering the barriers for how you can interact with and act upon that data.

So it is an exciting time to be in the technology market here. The rate and pace at which innovation is happening, and the fact that cloud has given people – and small companies – access to an underlying infrastructure, allows them to just focus on innovation.  We believe that this will trigger demand for higher order capabilities and loud service providers like SoftLayer.  And that…is really exciting.

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