IoT Micro Clouds

Posted on: January 11, 2017 by Mike Smith

For quite some time now, I've been able to turn the heating on in a morning whilst still huddled in bed. It's made possible through a combination of sensors, hardware devices, software and network infrastructure that when combined provide a useful service. Very handy!

IoT Micro Clouds, the title of this post, is a new phrase. We invented it for use in the Atos Scientific Community’s “Journey 2020” publication as part of our description of the future of the Internet of Things (IoT). But what does it mean?

Our vision of the future is a world of connected devices and services delivering useful information, having meaningful interactions and creating business value. Given the complex and sometimes real-time communications that will be required, however, we believe a simple cloud model will not always meet future IoT infrastructure requirements.

Today’s predominantly centralised cloud services, located in some remote datacentre, will evolve. Our expectation is that it will be necessary for local Cloud-like infrastructures to be established to facilitate communication between sensors and other devices. For example cars will increasingly “talk” to each other when they are in close proximity, creating dynamic local transient clouds – perhaps for safety reasons or to exchange other data (road conditions, traffic density, alerts and the like). These transient clouds will exhibit swarm-like behaviour; but that's a story for another day.

These local “Micro Clouds” are likely to have some form of gateway to that centralised cloud we have established today. So some processing will take place locally, whilst other things will make more sense to do centrally on aggregated data. This will enable infrastructures to more easily scale too, because of the partitioning effect.

We believe the IoT gateway will require additional features such as enhanced processing power, and be governed by a set of logical controllers, leveraging concepts from Software-Defined Networking. This will allow them to host virtualized computing functions and assist a set of objects in their mutual operation and cooperation. This in turn will create autonomous systems that constitute the IoT applications. The Micro Cloud can and in fact must provide a means to protect data against unintended use. These IoT Micro Clouds can help to implement effective monitoring and secure software lifecycle management. But how realistic this is depends largely on how quickly a standard for IoT devices will emerge - IoT devices are built with the intention of being inexpensive and long-lasting, so it may not be practical to perform system updates and patching.

Actually we are already seeing elements of this happening in the home automation space, as I introduced this article with. A number of commercial solutions now have hubs that monitor and manage a range of devices throughout the home, including heating, doors, lights, security systems etc. They then pass appropriate information up to a central repository and facilitate secure remote access for control.

What does this all enable?

Fast Response: Local fast decisions can be made; joint decisions by all participating devices. This makes sense if, for instance, those cars we talked about earlier are about to have a collision. Evasive action can be taken. It is a bit like the human nervous system - you have localised automated responses (knee jerk reactions) and more considered centralised responses controlled by your brain. Your brain is the central cloud service here and nerve dendrites are like IoT objects.

Security: With hundreds of thousands, and what will become millions and millions of IoT devices connected to the Internet we have already seen the devastating impact they can have if put to nefarious purposes. Local clouds with security measures built into gateways will help counteract that.

Resilience: Even without access to the centralised cloud, for whatever reason, IoT infrastructures will be more resilient and self-reliant if architected in the Micro Cloud way.

So the phrase IoT Micro Cloud, in my view, describes the all of the sensors and other local IoT devices, the gateway to other cloud services and the network infrastructure that enables these contraptions to talk to each other. A self-contained environment. It’s perhaps not quite as simple as that if the underlying network infrastructure is one of the wide area low power networks intended for use by IoT devices, such as LoRa or Sigfox; but that’s how I view it.

I hope this explains some of our thinking about what IoT Micro Clouds are, and why we think they’re important. I am sure we’ll see more and more of them being established in a business context as well as in the home, keeping my feet warm.

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About Mike Smith
Chief Technology Officer, Atos Distinguished Expert, Founding member of the Atos Scientific Community
Mike has been in the IT industry for over 20 years, designing and implementing complex infrastructures that underpin key Government and private sector solutions. Setting Atos technical strategy, researching new technologies and supporting the consulting and architect communities. Previously Mike has held technical and management positions in British Rail, Sema Group and Schlumberger. He has a daughter and a son, both keen on anything but technology. Mike's sporting passion rests with Test Match Special, and is jealous/proud of his son's Ice Hockey skills.

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