By Bruno Pinna, Bull Group Marketing Director
Looking back, 2009 will be seen as a pivotal year in the development of the Internet of the future, and in the transformation of corporate computing. This was the year that saw the presence of social networks on a really large scale, the widespread adoption of Smart Phone for mass-market applications, and the emergence of Cloud Computing for enterprise applications.
Often, when a diverse range of technologies reach maturity at the same point it is a catalyst for the emergence of new, ‘disruptive’ innovations. When it comes to Cloud Computing, this point was reached in three key areas simultaneously: the widespread availability of broadband networks, virtualization and Web Services.
Cloud Computing is still attracting considerable interest now, in early 2010, and its effects look set to be felt over the long term. Which is why Gartner has predicted that by 2012 some 20% of businesses will no longer own their own IT hardware, preferring to access their processing and applications remotely, via the Internet.
Closely linked to Cloud Computing, the development of massive ‘computing power plants’ will accelerate in the next few years, and Bull is in the advance guard in this movement. But in 2010, we are also likely to see the emergence of totally new ways of using them, in the context of the new, extended Internet.
This vision of an Internet that supports a myriad of transactions, many of them originating from the latest generation of intelligent devices, is what’s known as ‘The Internet of Things”: a vision initially developed in the mid 1990s, as part of MIT Media Lab’s Things That Think initiative.
The Internet of Things will itself be the result of a combination of diverse technologies. This time, widespread access to the Internet and Web Services will be combined with nanotechnologies, enabling more and more sophisticated objects or devices to connect themselves to the network, to play an active part in complex processes.
So we are going to see total interplay between two worlds that are currently quite separate: the virtual world and the physical world. The Internet of Things will have an impact on both the general public and business applications.
In the mass market we are going to gradually see a wide range of innovative devices being launched, capable of actively communicating and carrying out increasingly sophisticated functions. Who nowadays has not heard of Nabaztagi, the so-called ‘smart rabbit’: a tiny ambient electronic device that can transmit information in spoken form or via coded LED sequences, obey voice commands and read RFID tags, with a direct connection to the Internet?
In 2010, we are going to see a multitude of similar devices being launched, designed to help people in their day-to-day lives or play a central role in virtual reality games, for example.
In the business arena, applications are potentially infinite, and now that the technological challenges have been overcome we are going full speed ahead into reality, with every different kind of object imaginable: from Smart Phones, intelligent vehicles and electronic metering, to safety devices in our towns and villages, designed to protect people and provide personal assistance.
The first challenge was to manage thousands, even hundreds of thousands of objects connected to a single network. That is now possible thanks to the addressing capacity of IPv6 and the ability we now have to build computing power plants capitalizing on the power of Extreme Computing.
The second challenge – a direct corollary of the first – was to ensure that the Web Services model was demonstrably capable of operating with response times a whole order of magnitude faster than conventional Internet applications. Because information systems have to be capable of analyzing the status of objects and receiving massive amounts of data from those objects in real time, in order to be able to effectively take decisions and act upon them.
What is the reality of the Internet of Things?
Initially, new-generation electricity networks or ‘smart grids’ will enable production and distribution to be optimized, by controlling domestic equipment (through smart metering) and incorporating energy from renewable and other alternative sources (solar power, wind energy…). According to the Climate Group, smart grids are the most important tool when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and could deliver annual savings equivalent to around 2.03 giga-tonnes of CO2 by 2020, the same as that generated by all the households and vehicles in the USA.
When it comes to defense and homeland security, the key aims are more effectively identity management, detecting suspicious behaviour and tracking communications.
In the transport sector, greater automation of public transport and interaction between vehicles and ‘intelligent routes’ should result in safety improvements and lower carbon footprints. While in the logistics and distribution industry, smarter identification of objects should result in considerable productivity improvements. According to SAP, the costs associated with lost baggage in the airline industry alone were of the order of $3.8 billion in 2007.
If the Internet of Things is to grow and develop, we need to carry on pushing back the technological boundaries.
Very high-speed bandwidth networks, on which access to these new services depends, will be critical . By 2020, there is likely to be between three hundred to a thousand times as much Internet traffic as there is today!
Attention also needs to be paid to the objects themselves, including smart cards and embedded sensors, which will revolutionize the way they are used. Because they enable physical parameters to be closely monitored and systems to adapt themselves in real time, actively communicating objects will bring a high degree of ‘intelligence’ to an environment that is becoming increasingly rich, secure, but also much more complex.
And finally, in order to untangle that complexity, and analyze the massive and continuous flow of data emanating from signal capture and processing devices, the focus will have to be on developing the third key pillar of future infrastructures: large-scale computing power plants.
So what does the future hold? By combining, for example, one of the biggest phenomena of 2009, social networks, with the Internet of Things, one can imagine that this kind of osmosis could create unlimited possibilities. As a result, Gartner has put forward the theory that by 2014 at least 50% of the messages going to social networks will be sent by automated programs or objects. And according to Ericsson, 50 billion actively communicating objects will be using mobile broadband networks by 2020: the equivalent of an average of 10 objects for each and every one of us. From now on, the possibilities are endless.
Bull is taking up this challenge for the future, and helping its customers to address it, particularly with bullx – which has been awarded as the world’s best supercomputer and forms a key building block of future computing powerhouses – and its recent acquisition of Amesys. By combining the latter’s data acquisition capacity with its own large-scale data processing abilities, Bull is now well positioned as a leader in the digital infrastructures that will support tomorrow’s society.