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Why "The Cloud" Isn't Revolutionary

  • 04.23.18
  • ::
  • By Matt Smith

The Cortet Blog | The Cloud

As tech companies fight for headlines with press releases touting “revolutionary” and “game changing” technologies, I often wonder if they really mean what they are saying.

The personal computer changed things. The Internet (or was it the Browser? Or World Wide Web?) changed things. The Mobile Phone changed things. The Cloud… didn’t change things really.


More from Matt Smith:

Alphabet Soup: Understanding IoT Acronyms and How to Compare Them

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Gateway

A Tale of Two Protocol Stacks: Our Picks for Optimal IoT Control

A New Hope for IoT Control: Why Alexa Stole the Show at CES

Is Cloud Computing Truly Transformational?

New technology has often driven transformational changes in companies and in the world at large.

The Cloud, especially as it relates to IoT, seems like exciting new technology at first. It has many of the characteristics of exciting new technology: Few people really understand it, it offers lots of new ways to do things, and it is a seemingly critical piece of a market with vast potential.

Unfortunately, the Cloud isn’t all that new, it isn’t transformational, and it has done a great job of derailing many IoT platforms and systems.

What? I know what you may be thinking. What Cloud is he talking about? Everything needs the Cloud today. Doesn’t it?

The Recipe for Taking Advantage of New Tech

Success with new technology has had a general recipe:

1. Find an expert (or two) with a grand vision (or at least a solid vision) who will be a workaholic for their goal.

2. Give them the resources to do what they think needs to get done.

3. Work out the details later.

Apple had Steve and Steve. Microsoft had Mister Gates. Netscape had Marc, Bark, and Clark. It’s a lot easier to build a team around a talented engineer with conviction.

Unfortunately for IoT, this recipe doesn’t work if your expert is a “Cloud Expert.”

An expert for the Cloud would likely put the Cloud at the center of the system, as the disruptive technology.

However, many IoT systems have already been derailed by having the Cloud component drive the requirements for the other components of the system.

The Cloud is not the center of the system, it is just one enabling part. IoT systems can run without a Cloud.

They cannot run without the Things.

The Role of the Cloud in an IoT System

First, in any IoT system, we have the Things. These are the devices that the user actually cares about and makes use of. These Things are what is being networked and connected to the outside world by the system.

Then there is a user interface (UI), which is how the user interacts with their Things. This is often a mobile app.

Next, there is a Brain, which talks to the UI and coordinates actions of many of the Things, since Things are often resource-constrained and simple.

Some systems will stop there. No Internet connection is used. Why? Because:

   A) They can’t get one;

   B) They don’t want one for security reasons; or

   C) They don’t need one.

For systems with Internet connections, the Cloud can enable many things, including software updates, backup and restore, data collection, remote connectivity, etc.

The first three items mentioned deal with data, and the Cloud can be thought of as a large, highly-available database. Even the feature of remote connectivity can be thought of as passing data.

When the mobile app is local to the Things, it communicates directly to them. When the mobile app is remote to the Things, it passes its message into the Cloud, which then holds on to the message until the Things ask for it. Same path in reverse for the response. It is just data.

So, what is the Cloud? In a well-designed IoT system, the Cloud is an optional database, with nearly limitless data storage, that is usually available (unless the Internet is down).

The Cloud Has Been Around for a Long Time

Before the Cloud there was “Client-Server” computing. Inside of your company network there were servers that stored shared resources for people.

Then we had Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) — you could more securely connect to your company network from home or the road and access the shared items.

Now we have “the Cloud” to replace the servers that used to physically sit inside the company networks.

Yes, the Cloud is different because there are now ways to virtualize the servers and the processes, and people now use these Cloud servers for personal work as well.

But, the function of these Cloud servers is the same function as the old company servers.

There have been two changes with Cloud computing. One is that since Cloud servers operate outside of the users’ physical location, which means outside the firewall, that HTTP and HTTPS have become the standard protocol used (since firewalls treat this protocol well). This also means that a browser is the interface for more and more functions (email, source code, database, etc.).

The second change is that rather than connecting to your company network with a VPN, you simply use the Cloud and security is handled by the Cloud.

For Next Time... ZigBee Turns 30!

Now that we finally have settled on ZigBee, and devices exist and Things work together, we are now hearing about ZigBee 3.0.

Since most ZigBee devices today use ZigBee HA 1.2, this sounds like a big change and potentially a big problem.

In my next post, I will talk about the reasons for creating ZigBee 3.0, when to expect it to be “real,” and how existing ZigBee 1.2 networks can be migrated to ZigBee 3.0.

Until then, be sure to subscribe to our email alerts and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter so you don't miss a thing.

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