The Internet of Things isn't really an Internet of anything, at least not yet. Sure, devices are connected to the Internet, but they don't communicate with other devices — just with their own home servers. But that may be about to change.
A new common cloud platform dubbed Xively Cloud Services aims to provide a common ground through which any device connected to the Internet could actually communicate with any other device. Xively is an old fixture within the Internet of Things ecosystem, as it's actually a new commercial version of the older non-commercial Cosm platform, which in turn used to be known as Pachube until Xively's current owner LogMeIn purchased Pachube in 2011.
Like Cosm before it, Xively will offer a way for disparate devices to connect with each other, though now with commercial terms of service for commercial users and freely available services for projects in development. Whatever you call it, the availability of a platform like Xively is a key component in building a true Internet of Things instead of what we actually have now.
The Intranets of Things
To understand the difference, think back a decade or so to when the term "intranets" was all the rage. While the Internet was the grand, connected network of networks, intranets were the smaller, private networks used by corporations who were on the cutting edge of cool in the early days of the 21st century.
Today, the concept is still the same, even if the mystique of the term has worn off somewhat. Devices that are connected to the Internet at large behave in much the same way as servers on an intranet: they communicate only with their corporate systems, reporting data only to the commercial manufacturer.
Instead of the Internet of Things, then, what we have now is a whole bunch of intranets of things.
This may work for individual products, such as the car sensors that report back to the factory with critical maintenance data that, ideally, leads to faster diagnosis and repair of problems. But it doesn't leave much room for connecting devices and objects that really were never designed to communicate with each other.
What The Internet Of Things Might Look Like
Imagine, says Xively VP Chad Jones, a collection of tiny accelerometers and heat sensors woven into the fabric of an infant's onesie, designed to communicate with monitoring software in the cloud with the intent to watch the baby's breathing and body heat for the onset of sudden infant death syndrome or any other form of respiratory distress. The special clothing probably has its own alarm, but what if parents wanted the option to set off every fire alarm in the house?
(Hey, when it's your kid, you might want it to call the fire department and the National Guard, too.)
Right now, both the clothing and the alarms might be connected to the Internet, but not to each other. To make such an option work in our current circumstances, the manufacturers of the devices would have to meet, figure out common signal specifications and work out a commercial agreement. And that's for every fire alarm manufacturer.
Xively enables device makers to set the privacy settings for device data in the Xively network to share all, share some or share none, Jones explained. If device makers were on the Xively platform, they would have a common ground to connect and effectively communicate, using data sharing combined with directory services that provide the ability to selectively share device data and control.
Connecting the medical onesie and the alarms in this scenario would be a far easier and more frictionless experience.
This sort of common platform is exactly what the Internet of Things really needs. Xively and similar platforms like Open.Sen.se will make it much easier and faster for unrelated devices to connect with each other and start delivering on the promise of smart homes, intelligent devices services and similar long-promised notions.
Besides ushering in a boon of new connected devices, common cloud platforms for devices will ultimately help the consumer by ushering in competition and more choices. Right now, to build a smart or connected home requires you to choose from a relatively small array of compatible devices — which, unsurprisingly, aren't cheap.
Introduce more compatible devices through a common network, then suddenly the market will naturally drive prices down. More device vendors should jump into the game, too, knowing they will have a fair shot in this new market.
Image courtesy of Xively