AWS opens door to a wider array of IoT applications

Jeffrey Kaplan explains why the growth of the cloud and Internet of Things applications are tightly coupled.

The unprecedented power of today's cloud services is making the futuristic idea of a connected world more tangible and economically feasible. Technology companies and other businesses are promoting the potential benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT), hailing a new generation of connected devices and remote sensors. Indeed, the cloud enables organizations of all sizes across nearly every industry to launch IoT initiatives and fulfill their IoT vision.

Although many of these capabilities were possible long ago, IoT is a broader vision of the previous concept of machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. In the old M2M world, most businesses deployed remote sensors, RFID technology and other monitoring tools to track and optimize the performance of various commercial products and services. The most common example was to improve transportation and wholesale distribution systems using these technologies. For instance, monitoring shipments has enabled trucking companies to optimize their logistics, increase their efficiency and reduce their costs. The same tools have enabled manufacturers and retailers to streamline their operations, lower their inventories and increase their profits.

By making compute power and storage space universally available and affordable, AWS opened the door to a wider array of M2M opportunities.

While the business benefits of M2M technologies have been proven, their cost and complexity has inhibited more widespread adoption. In many cases, past M2M deployments focused on real-time tracking and transactional protocols rather than collecting ongoing data to redefine the actual product or services.

Today's IoT applications leverage many of the same assets of the cloud that have recently been harnessed to capitalize on the explosive growth of big data. In fact, the IoT is quickly becoming a major contributor to the big-data phenomenon.

Cloud-based infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) is becoming the primary computing engine and storage vehicle for many IoT deployments. IaaS provides cheap compute power and virtually unlimited storage resources for businesses seeking to quickly ramp up their IoT capabilities and capture the data they're generating.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) not only brought the pay-per-use model of cloud to the cloud computing market, but it is also the clearest example of the powerful enablement capabilities of IaaS. It offers various levels of compute power and storage space on-demand at commodity prices. By making compute power and storage space universally available and affordable, AWS opened the door to a wider array of M2M opportunities.

Very quickly, more businesses are finding use cases for embedding increasingly powerful yet inexpensive sensors into their products to track their movement and measure customer behavior. This "democratization" of M2M deployments accelerated as the sensors found their way into a wider assortment of consumer products and services.

The most obvious example of the spread of Internet of Things applications has been the exponential growth of fitness tracking devices and other "wearables" geared toward helping individuals monitor their daily habits. In the same way mobile devices and social apps have changed the way people perceive and use computers and software solutions in their professional lives, consumer-oriented monitoring products have made business people more aware of the new opportunities to connect their products and services with their back-end operations.

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The software-as-a-service (SaaS) layer of the cloud has also been instrumental in the rapid growth of the IoT market. User-friendly SaaS solutions now enable corporate customers and executives, as well as their customers and partners, to analyze and share the data generated by connected devices, sensors, etc.

These SaaS solutions have arrived just in time to meet the escalating needs of more data-hungry and analytics-savvy business people. The pay-as-you-go pricing model associated with SaaS has also made it a better fit for today's businesses that are trying to reduce their upfront costs and the risks of potential deployment failures.

The fastest growing segment of the cloud market is platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and it too is fueling the growth of the IoT. PaaS products give businesses more economical software development tools, along with useful application programming interfaces (APIs). The tools enable customers to build control systems to manage their IoT applications and interoperate them with third-party software, pulling together all the pieces of the IoT supply chain.

One milestone event, which brought greater attention to the rapidly evolving IoT marketplace, was Google's acquisition of Nest Labs in January for $3.2 billion. Prior to the acquisition, Nest was already gaining recognition as a leader in the consumer-oriented world of the IoT. Nest's products helped popularize the idea of remote climate monitoring and control capabilities. Google's substantial investment in Nest further validated the magnitude of IoT's potential in the consumer and industrial markets.

AWS has not made the same kind of public move to assert itself in the IoT market, but scratch under the surface of almost any cloud-based IoT solution and you'll find that it is delivered and supported by AWS.

The growth of the cloud and the IoT will continue to be tightly coupled, and AWS will become a more overt force in the evolution of the IoT marketplace.

This was first published in May 2014

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