Eurotech: Get ready for devices-as-a-service
Eurotech, developer of machine-to-machine technology and m2m device manufacturer, wants to open its offerings to a broader market. To do so the company is promoting the idea of devices-as-a-service—and if the company’s vision is correct, there could be significant opportunities for communications service providers and data center operators in the DaaS approach.
“It’s the logical next step,” said Robert Andres, corporate marketing director for Eurotech Group, at a press and analyst event at Eurotech headquarters in Amaro, Italy, on Monday. “The customer is only interested in getting data into the business.”
When m2m moves into the cloud, Andres said, “the cost of hardware is a recurring fee for the customer.”
A complex implementation
Offering devices-as-a-service, however, is a considerably more complex implementation than some other cloud services that essentially move traditional enterprise software applications to remote data centers. The reason is that m2m applications traditionally have required a particularly high degree of customization—from the devices used to gather data to the back-end software that acts upon the data.
Eurotech built its business on manufacturing a wide range of customized devices—from wearable and ruggedized single board computers for industrial use to cameras used on board trains to count the number of passengers, with the goal of controlling unauthorized rides. Often the logic underlying these devices is hardware-based, and a systems integrator is required to create the software into which data from the m2m devices flows.
It’s not unusual for the m2m application development process to take as long as two years, said Andres. Accordingly, the cost and complexity of the undertaking has kept m2m out of the reach of all but the largest organizations that have the deep pockets to fund application development and the IT resources to support applications on an ongoing basis.
Moving m2m to the cloud minimizes the need for client organizations to have internal IT resources. And although the move will not eliminate the need for systems integration, Eurotech wants to see systems integrator involvement minimized by decoupling individual elements of an application from one another, instead enabling the individual elements to interconnect using standardized open interfaces.
“We are virtualizing the hardware for higher-level functions,” said Andres. GPS, for example, should operate in the same manner regardless of the hardware feeding into it, he said.
The open standards-based approach also simplifies the process of tweaking an application to address what Eurotech Chief Technology Officer Arlen Nipper called “the serendipitous nature of data.” Nipper pointed to the example of an enterprise client that doesn’t recognize a potential application that m2m could support until after a deployment has been made, asking for that application only after the fact.
The Everywhere Software Framework
The thinking behind the approach that Eurotech advocates may be familiar to people in the telecom industry, where similar open interfaces have been widely introduced through initiatives such as IP multimedia subsystem and open systems interconnection.
Eurotech calls its approach the Everywhere Software Framework and it draws on other open systems initiatives such as Java virtual machines and the OSGi standard used by set-top box manufacturers. Eurotech also sees an important role for MQTT, a protocol the company co-designed with IBM to facilitate communications over low-bandwidth data connections. MQTT recently gained a strong supporter in Facebook, which selected MQTT to support its Facebook Messenger application.
Eurotech also has amassed a wide range of device form factors—and if an organization can work with an existing housing, that too can help minimize the deployment time for a cloud-based m2m offering.
Another advantage of a cloud-based approach to m2m is that the cloud platform can be architected to run in multiple data centers, offering a higher level of redundancy than a client organization might have in a traditional deployment.
Chris Rezendes, executive vice president of m2m and embedded device research firm VDC Research, said he expects to see strong interest in cloud-based m2m from chief financial officers who are asking why their companies are buying SCADA servers, for example, when they don’t pay for email in that manner. Rezendes added, though, that VDC also expects to see private cloud m2m implementations, perhaps involving communities of companies in specific vertical markets.
Who will be the cloud provider?
Eurotech does not necessarily see itself in the role of devices-as-a-service provider. Instead, the company sees the cloud approach primarily as a means of increasing the market for its core device and systems integration business.
“We will still charge for point solution development but the cost to the customer will be less” and “we will sell more of them,” Andres said.
“We won’t grow the business if we don’t find a different way to get the systems integration done,” added Nipper. And although Eurotech might be able to achieve a large part of that goal without moving m2m to the cloud, Nipper said the company needs the cloud because “IT doesn’t want to be involved.”
Eurotech CEO Roberto Siagri said he believes companies offering other types of software or hardware as a service could be DaaS providers. Communications service providers can avoid becoming simple bandwidth providers by creating a platform on which customers can design and develop applications, Siagri said.
Potentially large carriers such as AT&T or Verizon might be interested in the DaaS opportunity.
Such companies initially became involved in m2m by providing wireless connectivity from remote device networks to enterprise locations. More recently those carriers have created their own m2m business units.
Perhaps more importantly, major carriers have extensive data center infrastructure on the business services side of the house, as well as significant experience in working with partners to implement a wide range of “XaaS” offerings. Partnering with a company like Eurotech to deliver DaaS potentially could appeal to carriers as a means expanding their cloud service portfolios.
And although DaaS may not be attractive to every enterprise client that wants to implement m2m, those clients that prefer to operate their own private clouds may be interested in using carriers’ data centers to support that approach.