Have we reached a choke point in the IIoT platform currently in vogue? Glen Allmendinger, founder of Harbor Research, studies the area of connectivity. He continues to move with the times–perhaps even ahead of the times–going from M2M to IoT to (now) Smart Systems.

We should all know by now that the Internet of Things isn’t a Thing. The term was no doubt coined to capture the idea of connecting smart devices over the Internet using Internet protocols. There is a consumer aspect and an industrial aspect to the term. GE coined “Industrial Internet” (although it does not seem to care if the term gains widespread use) which then gave us “Industrial Internet of Things.” Some people then try to merge the term with the German initiative Industrie 4.0. But the only core similarity lies in a foundation of digital technology.

Allmendinger writes in a recent essay about the “failure of IoT platforms.” He is on to a key thought, here. He’s discussing network architecture as much as platforms. Specifically, he sees the failure of client/server architecture to scale and achieve required flexibility. We might as well exploit the power of the cloud and peer-to-peer. I tend to like publish/subscribe. I’m thrilled to see OPC Foundation moving to a pub/sub architecture, for example. Now if it, as well as other standards, would move to REST from SOAP, things would be better.

I’ve included a few excerpts from Allmendinger’s essay. Check out the entire piece here.

Today, platforms for the Internet of Things are still a kludgy collection of yesterday’s technology and architectures that do not address the most basic development challenges.

Today the world of smart communicating devices is mostly organized in hierarchies with smart user interface devices at the top and the dumb devices [often analog or serial sensors and actuators] at the bottom. Within this structure, there are typically various types of “middle box” supervisory and gateway devices forming a point of connectivity and control for the sensors and actuators as well as the infrastructure for the network. From our perspective, this description of today’s IoT systems architecture looks very familiar and is largely organized like client-server based computer systems….. no surprise given they were designed in the 1990′s.

As the Internet of Things opportunity matures, the sensor and actuator devices will all become smart themselves and the connectivity between them (devices, for the most part, that have never been connected) will become more intelligent and the interactions more complex. As the number of smart devices grow, the existing client-server hierarchy and the related “middle boxes” acting as hubs, gateways, controllers and interfaces will quickly start to blur. In this future-state, the need for any kind of traditional client-server architecture will become superfluous. In a future Smart Systems world, the days of hierarchical models are numbered.

This is the move we’ve been waiting for…….. to a truly distributed architecture because today’s systems will not be able to scale and interact effectively where there are billions of nodes involved. The notion that all these “things” and devices will produce streaming data that has to be processed in some cloud will simply not work. It makes more sense structurally and economically to execute these interactions in a more distributed architecture near the sensors and actuators where the application-context prevails.

Dispersed computing devices will become unified application platforms from which to provide services to devices and users where the applications run, where the data is turned into information, where storage takes place, and where the browsing of information ultimately takes place too – not in some server farm in a cloud data center.

From our view the movement towards peer-to-peer, and the view that many people hold that this is somehow novel, is ironic given that the Internet was originally designed for peer-to-peer interactions. We seem to be heading “back to the future.”

Today’s platforms for Smart Systems and the IoT should be taking on the toughest challenges of interoperability, information architecture and user complexity. But they’re not.

We need to creatively evolve to an entirely new approach that avoids the confinements and limitations of the today’s differing platforms. We need to quickly move to a “post platform” world where there is a truly open data and information architecture that can easily integrate diverse machines, data, information systems and people – a world where smarter systems will smoothly interact to create systemic intelligence – a world where there are no artificial barriers between different types of information.

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