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Think Tank Case Study: Open Source and the Internet of Things

Case Study Details

The Internet of Things (IoT) is emerging as the next important trend in the technology industry. According to Cisco, IoT is estimated to become a $19 trillion industry over the next several years. IoT will impact many industries, including consumer electronics, telecommunications, industrial control, energy, health care, automotive – even enterprise IT. A key challenge to the growth of IoT lies in the current solutions building primarily on proprietary vertical technologies, limiting innovation and ultimately true ubiquity.

Creating an Internet of Things requires building blocks that foster interoperability to spur innovation, community and creativity. Only with an open IoT can multiple industries participate in and profit from it.

Applying a free and open source software (FOSS) perspective to the evolution of the IoT, highlights the challenges facing this new paradigm

  • What exactly is the scope of the definition of IoT, and how and where does it involve open source?
  • What is the role of FOSS in IoT?
    •  Are there new business models that IoT creates?
    •  Will IoT change the substance and governance of FOSS projects?
  • Is the IoT a boom or bust for FOSS?
  • What is the best way to bring together diverse industries to build an open source IoT solution?
  • What will be the source of innovation and creativity for IoT?
  • What are the logistical issues for incorporating FOSS that need to be overcome to improve the velocity of creation within large enterprises?

Background/Introduction to Case Study

Suggested Reading

As sentient surfers, we all belong to the "Internet of Persons," a growing global population of 2.5 billion of your fellow human beings.   But we are not alone.  Joining us on the Internet is a far vaster and increasingly ubiquitous army of connected objects, of variously autonomous devices - "Things" - billions and billions of them, forming the Internet of Things (IoT).

The most obvious networked Things are smartphones, tablets, computers, home entertainment devices and increasingly, your car.  But, investments in smart energy bring thermostats, HVAC, pool and spa heaters, electrical plugs and light switches, even individual light bulbs and sockets onto the IoT.  At clinics and hospitals and in homes, connected Things encompass diagnostic equipment, patient monitors, surgical and pharmacy robots, drip machines and other apparatuses of modern medicine.  The same goes for manufacturing, food production and processing, arts and entertainment, sports (think NASCAR cams and smart hockey pucks). 

But don't stop with smart devices.  There is an even larger fleet of passive devices that participates in the IoT.  About a decade ago, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers began embedding RFID chips into and attaching smart labels on to goods to track production, distribution, sales and leakage (theft).  These tiny "slugs" and ordinary-looking labels contain unique identifiers and modest amount of memory, accessed by stimulating them with pulses of radio energy.  By placing RFID portals at entrances and exits of stores, libraries and warehouses, and at key points on production lines, organizations can closely track location, production and consumption of tagged items – electronics, pharmaceuticals, books, supplies, clothing, shoes, the food in your fridge, of any Thing you can imagine.

Omnipresent and pervasive, the Internet of Things would not be possible without open source software (OSS). Open source supports and quintessentially enables the Internet of Things at many levels. IoT visionaries and implementers alike look to open source because OSS is:

  • Ubiquitous – IoT spans from passive devices to intelligent portals, to network devices and infrastructure, to the cloud and corporate data centers.  At every compute node, OSS has a key role:  embedded and enterprise operating systems (Linux, Android, even iOS);  network infrastructure (most TCP/IP stacks, routing software, Carrier Grade Linux); web software (the LAMP stack, browsers and tools);  Cloud infrastructure (OpenStack, CloudStack, Eucalyptus, and Linux-based virtualization); Machine-to-Machine software stacks (Mango, DeviceHive, Mihini); and RFID software (OpenBeacon, Fostrak, etc.).
  • Scalable – Implementing a ubiquitous Internet of Things requires systems both tiny and titanic.  Open source meets IoT needs for both vertical and horizontal scaling, across all types of specialty and commodity hardware, technically and financially.
  •  Critical – Open source provides de facto standardization and interoperability across the IoT for a range of critical functions.  The most obvious is connectivity itself:  critical to build-out of the Internet of Things is Internet Protocol (IP) in general, and IPv6 in particular (both open source), to accommodate trillions of possible devices and addresses.  Joining IP in enabling the IoT are dozens of other open standards and open source implementations – HTTP and HTML, Java, SSH/SSL, audio and video (MPEG, OGG, etc.), OSGi, XMPP – to name a few.

What's Next for the IoT and OSS
As more Things become trackable, two open source technologies will further enable the build out of the Internet of Things: big data and search.

Big data: Trillions of Things directly and indirectly generate petabytes and exabytes of associated data.  Legacy/proprietary databases and data warehouse technologies simply cannot scale to accommodate the volume, variety and real-time velocity of IoT data sets.  To meet the IoT big data challenge, IT and data scientists are deploying open source projects like Hadoop, Hive, HBase, Mongo, Couchbase and related big data platforms and NoSQL stores.

Search: In servicing the Internet of Things, search will no longer be concentrated in a few privileged portals (Google, Bing, Baidu et al.).   To support search of the dynamic and ubiquitous IoT, implementers will look to OSS search engines and components, including Apache Lucene/Solr and dozens of domain-specific engines.

Finding Common Cause
Like the more familiar Internet, the Internet of Things represents a confluence of diverse interests.  Stakeholders span industries and cross international boundaries, encompassing a "super community" of end-users and participants from the public and private sectors.   As with other super communities (GENIVI for automotive, OSEHRA for electronic health records), participants in the build out of the IoT realize (or soon will) that common cause outweighs siloed self-interest. An unfortunate example of this dynamic lies in smart energy and the smart home. A generation of premises management suppliers have failed to gain momentum with narrow, mono-branded offerings with little interoperability or standardization, and even less vision for a workable ecosystem.  The result is a marketplace that caters only to hobbyists and select wealthy homeowners, and a fragmented lackluster commercial landscape. For the Internet of Things to bring real benefit, IoT ecosystem participants must continue to build on open standards, end to end.  And the best way to create, refine and promote open standards is with open source implementation.

ComputerWorld  - Open Source Challenges a Proprietary Internet of Things

CLS Case Study: The Road To a Foundation

Overview / Background

This case study is based on a compilation of industry requirements from organizations looking to make important decisions regarding their engagement in the open source ecosystem. The feedback from this case study will be made publicly available so any company facing these types of choices can benefit. Your input is very valuable and will help influence key decisions and future community management strategies.

Colper is an Open Source filesystem designed to provide a scalable, highly performant, and reliable filesystem for cloud workloads. Colper has become a technology of significant interest in recent years.

The project was conceived by the organization that ultimately became Residual. Today Residual is the primary commercial investor in Colper and employs engineers, business development, marketing, and other staff to continue growing Colper and the Colper development community. Residual is a small VC-backed start-up company based in the United States.

While Residual wants to assure profitability and commercial success, they also want to ensure Colper evolves as an open, mature technology that many different organizations can invest in, similar in spirit to OpenStack.

With this in mind Residual are planning on moving Colper to a foundation (the specific foundation is yet to be finalized) and want to ensure Colper is effectively governed, has a strong developer community, and is able to manage current and future needs within the industry and its users.

This Case Study

In this case study we want to bridge the gap between Colper as a project managed and invested in by Residual and move it towards the foundation model where Residual is just one of many partners.

The move of Colper to a foundation has a number of core goals from the perspective of Residual:

  • The move should serve the Colper contributor and user communities well.
  • Residual should continue to be able to serve in a role that influences Colper (although not necessarily with an unfair advantage).
  • The foundation should be interesting to join for potential members.
  • Technical innovation and evolution should continue to be a primary focus of Colper, and not held back by being part of a foundation.
  • The red tape and bureaucracy should be a minimum.

Our goal today is to provide guidance of how to achieve these core goals across a range of key areas.

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