April 3rd, 2013

Getting Perspective on Your Big Data

Data LensAs we see it here at Layer 7, there are two big problems with Big Data:

1. There’s just so much of it that it’s easy to lose sight of the byte-sized trees in the petabyte-sized forest

2. It’s locked away in every recess of the enterprise – from applications to relational databases, to non-relational databases, to in-memory caches, public clouds, Hadoop clusters etc.

Data growth and diversity have made data access harder. But data access is the foundation of mobile app development, anything to do with the Internet of Things (IoT) and all kinds of Big Data analytics. Given this need for data in the face of access complexity, it didn’t come as a total surprise to see some of the most innovative Layer 7 customers start using our API Gateway technology as a novel data access, aggregation and presentation solution. As our resident IoT expert Holger Reinhardt pointed out to me: they are using our products to build highly-customized “lenses” across their distributed data backends. To me, this characterization is perfect because what these customers are looking for is perspective on their data. A lens gives perspective with focus.

Now, a Layer 7 API Gateway is more than just a data integration solution. Our technology has several unique features that make it ideal for collecting, composing and presenting data. First, we can talk to all kinds of data sources natively. That wasn’t easy to achieve and it’s something we developed over many years. Second, we can represent the source data as a RESTful API. Even better, we can dynamically generate a virtual API view for a specific user, app, partner etc. The API then becomes the entry point for accessing the aggregated data. Third, we can add fine-grained access and protection policies that ensure only authorized consumers get visibility to specific slices of data, while also protecting the data sources from attack and misuse. When combined, these capabilities give organizations a way to focus on just the information that is relevant to a particular mobile, IoT or Big Data analytics project and then share selectively with an app, cloud service, developer or partner.

A data lens is born!

If you want to learn more about our Data Lens solution, have a read of this new solution brief. Also, feel free to reach out to us with any questions.

April 2nd, 2013

Mobile World Congress One Month On

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IoT CompaniesIt’s has been over a month since the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona and it seems like a good time to review what I learned there. First, I was amazed by the prominence of mobile accessory vendors: from tablet bags to smart phone covers. Second, while IoT and M2M were mentioned, they were relegated to a narrow strip in the back of Hall 2. Taking both of these facts together, it appears that the mobile accessory business is for real and IoT is all hype.

So, are all these news stories about trillion-dollar business opportunities in IoT just stories? Most likely the truth is that no one has yet figured out how to make money with IoT but everyone wants to make sure that they are at least seen to have a plan – just in case it does take off. As if to prove this point, ZDnet made a very different assessment of M2M at MWC. I went into more detail on these issues during my recent interview with DeviceLine Radio.

Personally, I firmly believe in the disruptive potential for IoT. It will be disruptive because it will break down the separation between manufacturing industry on one side and IT industry on the other. Manufacturing companies like GE, Bosch and Siemens will increasingly see IT – and Big Data in particular – as a core competency they will need to master in order to sustain a competitive advantage. Simply outsourcing to IT companies will no longer suffice.

We can clearly see this developing as, for example, Bosch is readying its Internet Application Platform and GE is aggressively building out its Silicon Valley presence. At the same time IT companies are trying to position themselves as natural partners for manufactures or as integrators of smart things. Credit has to go to IBM, which has been pushing this trend as part of its Smarter Planet campaign, way ahead of other players.

Meanwhile, telecom carriers are also struggling to decide what IoT will mean for them. It’s easy to see how telecom’s core business can be seen as just a set of “dumb” data pipes. The challenge for this sector will be figuring out how to leverage its considerable assets, like cellular networks, global roaming and integrated billing, to create M2M business platforms. I think that Big Data analytics on the data piped through their network will have to be part of it.

February 22nd, 2013

Cisco & the Internet of Everything

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Category API Management, M2M
 

Cisco and the Internet of EverythingJohn Chambers, CEO of Cisco, just published a good blog entry about the potential for change caused by universal connectivity – not just of our mobile gadgets but of pretty much everything. Recently, much has been said about the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT), of which Cisco is expanding the scope, going so far as to make a bold estimate that 99.4% of objects still remain unconnected. This, of course, is great fodder for late-night talk show hosts. I’ll leave this softball to them and focus instead on some of the more interesting points in Chambers’ post and the accompanying white paper.

It strikes me that there might be more to Cisco’s “Internet of Everything” (IoE) neologism than just a vendor’s attempt to brand what still may be a technology maverick. Internet of Everything sounds so much better than the common alternative when you append “Economy” to the end – and this is how it first appears in Chambers’ post. And that’s actually important because adding economy in the same breath is an acknowledgement that this isn’t just marketing opportunism as much as a recognition that, like mobility, the IoE could potentially be a great catalyst for independent innovation. In fact, Cisco’s white paper really isn’t about technology at all but is instead an analysis of the market potential represented in each emerging sector, from smart factories to college education.

It is exactly this potential for innovation – a new economy – that is exciting. The combination of Mobile Access and APIs was so explosive precisely because it combined a technology with enormous creative potential (APIs) with a irresistible business impetus (access to information outside the enterprise network). The geeks love enabling tools and APIs are nothing if not enabling; mobile just gives them something to build.

I0E, of course, is the ultimate business driver and –  with APIs as the enabler – it equals opportunity of staggering proportions. Like mobile before it – and indeed, social Web integration before that – IoE will come about precisely because the foundation of APIs already exists.

It is here where I disagree with some IoT pundits who advocate specialized protocols for optimizing performance. No thank you; it isn’t 1990 and opaque binary protocols no longer work for us, except when streaming large data sets (I’m looking at you, video).

Security in the IoE will be a huge issue and Cisco has this to say on the topic :

“IoE security will be addressed through network-powered technology: devices connecting to the network will take advantage of the inherent security that the network provides (rather than trying to ensure security at the device level).”

I agree with this because security coding is still just too hard and too easy to implement wrongly. One of the key lessons of mobile development is that we need to make it easy for developers to automatically enable secure communications. Take security out of the hands of developers, put it in the hands of dedicated security professionals and trust me, the developers will thank you.

As IoE extends to increasingly resource-constrained devices, the simpler we can make secure development, the better. Let application developers focus on creating great apps and a new economy will follow.

February 22nd, 2013

The Internet of (Interesting) Things

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IoT at MWCRight now, a lot of companies are gearing up for Mobile World Congress – and Layer 7 is no exception. I’m attending MWC and I’ll be interested to see how the Internet of Things (IoT) and M2M play out at the conference. IoT has been getting a lot of attention recently, so – in preparation for MWC – let’s take a look at some of the most interesting things that have been said and done in the last couple of months.

I’m particularly excited about a very ambitious EU-funded project to map an IoT reference architecture. Whether it will really become the reference architecture or simply a collection of best practices is subject to debate but I think the simple fact of trying to pull together all the different knowledge domains into one set of documents is bound to be interesting.

Forbes recently published an article by Alex Brisbourne called The Internet of Things Isn’t as New as It Seems. The article offers some really fascinating insights into the renewal rates for built-in 3G services in iPads and OnStar. Reflecting upon my own positive experiences with a 3G Kindle, I have to agree with Alex that, for connected devices to really reach their potential, connectivity must be simply built-in without requiring a separate subscription.

Another indication of this trend is the fact that car manufacturers are apparently switching from built-in mobile connectivity (requiring the owner to carry a subscription) to tethering off the driver’s existing smart phone. This highlights the challenges telco providers are facing – as summarized in a recent blog post on telco2.net.

Alex Bassi has provided another look at the way IoT is affecting business models, making the point that technology is enabling us to use things without having to own them. In my humble opinion, we’ll see this service-based model, which we normally associate with SaaS and the cloud, extending more and more into the domain of physical “smart” things. We can already see this usage pattern emerging in the automotive sector: car sharing a la Zipcar; limo service from Uber; electric car solutions from Better Place. FastCompany calls this the new “self-service” economy in an article that explores these issues in depth.

To get a good overview of the Internet of Things, I suggest heading over to ZDnet, which regularly posts articles on IoT and M2M. Postscapes, meanwhile, is completely dedicated to tracking IoT – I particularly like this site’s (currently incomplete) directory of companies in the space. There’s also a good collection of relevant essays gathered together on Bundlr.

Finally, here are a couple of links for the technically inclined. First here’s a presentation on the impressive set of open source building blocks developed as part of the m2m.eclipse.org project. Second is a piece that touches upon some technical aspects of the semantic Web that have a good deal of relevance to IoT. This is an area I’m personally very interested in and it might be a good topic to explore in a future post.

In any case, I expect to have plenty of interesting things to report on after Mobile World Congress. If you’re attending the show, be sure to stop by the Layer 7 booth for a chat. We’ll be at booth  #8.1A47 in the App Planet zone.

February 20th, 2013

Journey to the Center of the Mobile World

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Layer 7 at Mobile World CongressMobile World Congress – three words that strike fear into the hearts of marketing managers everywhere, for this is the largest mobile event of the year and we’re just a few days away from seeing 70,000 visitors descend upon Barcelona like a kettle of vultures, hungry for new innovations. This year, they will be treated to new hunting ground too, as MWC moves to a new, larger venue with more room for fresh meat. Before that metaphor gets completely worn out, let’s take a look at what we can actually expect from this year’s show.

As usual, we’re likely to see a very broad sweep across various areas of telco innovation and mobile strategy but there are some fundamental questions facing the community and these will dominate many conference sessions, seminars and exhibits:

  1. Connected Living
    As the Internet of Things gains momentum, how can the service provider community deliver the kind of enriched connectivity the broader ecosystem increasingly demands?
  2. Mobile Commerce
    For years, mobile has been a key banking and commerce tool for certain markets. With the rise of NFC (near field communication) and success stories like the Starbucks mobile payment app, will mobile become the preferred payment instrument for us all?
  3. Next-Generation Communications
    The world of communications moves quickly – too quickly even for service providers at times, with the runaway success of technologies of iMessage, WhatsApp and – next – WebRTC. In this ever-innovating world of mobile communications, can service providers regain some ground and demonstrate their value?

Layer 7 has answers to these questions and will be at MWC, demonstrating a variety of solutions that can help service providers address the challenges ahead. For example:

  1. We have been collaborating with AT&T and have planned an M2M solution that will capture anonymous information about visitors as they move around the exhibition halls. This information will be presented as intelligent APIs via the Layer 7 platform.
  2. Security and authentication are very familiar terms to Layer 7 and we’ll be showing how mobile payments can be easily and securely integrated with a mobile app without compromising the user experience.
  3. “Communications as a Service” opens many opportunities for service providers and the new partnership between Layer 7 and Voxeo Labs will show how easy it can be to capitalize on these opportunities.

Come and meet the team at booth 8.1A47 in the App Planet zone or email info@layer7.com to schedule a meeting. See you there!