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AWS re:Invent 2015: A guide to Amazon's sold-out event

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AWS IoT gives billions of connected devices a home in the cloud

Businesses have only seen the tip of the Internet of Things' iceberg, and Amazon plans to blow open the potential with the new AWS IoT cloud service.

LAS VEGAS – If the Internet of Things seems like a niche reserved for the largest and most advanced of companies...

today, just wait.

That was the sentiment at AWS re:Invent here this week after the Amazon Web Services Internet of Things (AWS IoT) service was released into beta. It will allow AWS shops to securely connect and manage billions of devices.

IoT is a niche today, but the uses so far are just the tip of the iceberg, said Aater Suleman, CEO of Flux7, an Amazon consulting partner based in Austin, Texas.

"It's going to get into pretty much everything -- it's the new way of connecting the physical world with the virtual world," Suleman said.

Representatives from several large companies said during sessions here they plan to use AWS IoT.

"We've already connected seven million devices and built our own platform," said Jeroen Tas, CEO, Healthcare Informatics Solutions and Services, Philips. The Netherlands-based company is using this platform for healthcare monitoring through a product called HealthSuite.

Now, Philips needs to take the platform up to 100 million and possibly 500 million devices, when the scale of the AWS cloud becomes necessary to manage it all, Tas said.

How AWS IoT works

AWS IoT will use a lightweight communication protocol to transport information from networked devices back to the AWS cloud, where it can be automatically routed through a Device Gateway and a Rules Engine to data collection points including DynamoDB, Kinesis and the Simple Storage Service. Data sent back to the cloud can also kick off Lambda functions.

Security is taken care of through TLS with a choice of AWS-generated X509 certificates for authorization, or customers can bring their own certificates and use HTTP. Once device data is analyzed, the system can take action such as turning networked lights on and off in response to changing conditions.

Another feature, Device Shadows, will communicate with devices when they are offline, reading the last reported state and setting a desired future state via a RESTful API. Software Development Kits are available for C, JavaScript and Arduino, and AWS IoT hardware partners for the beta include Qualcomm, Intel, Microchip and Marvell.

Device Shadows are among the more compelling features of AWS IoT, Phillip's Tas said. . Often health-monitoring sensors need to be reconfigured or reset based on certain triggers.

"AWS IoT gives us the core plumbing to take things to the next level," Tas said.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is another early adopter of AWS IoT for projects such as connected clean rooms or connected conference rooms, for everything from environmental management to driving rovers using the human voice.

"No way we could do that in our own data center," said Tom Soderstrom, CTO at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

AWS IoT isn't just for the big boys

Smaller firms also plan to get in on the AWS IoT act.

One Massachusetts-based company which processes data from sensors attached to manufacturing equipment will try to "build a bridge" to AWS IoT from its existing network.

"The question is how to adapt the technology we're using to integrate with it," said Jacob Lauzier, CTO of MachineMetrics Inc., based in Northampton, Mass. Currently, there's a protocol in place that does a piece of what AWS IoT does, gathering data from sensors and compiling it into XML on a centralized server.

"If we can replace the XML, we could have each machine stream directly to AWS IoT," Lauzier said.

Another Massachusetts-based startup in the IoT space will also investigate AWS IoT, and Device Shadows is also compelling to its founder, Kevin Felichko, who asked that the company not be named. Felichko is also the CTO for PropertyRoom.com, an online auction company based in Frederick, Md.

"We would like to be able to talk to devices that aren't currently connected," Felichko said. "It's good to see a really big player like Amazon building support -- it's exciting to see IoT make it big."

Since AWS IoT is in beta, some features haven't been added, such as support for IPv6 and rounding out the ecosystem of partners.

"I'm curious to hear how this is received in the lower level embedded community, where Google seems to have done some good outreach, and where a lot of details seem to be missing," said one executive from a financial services company who requested anonymity.

The question of IPv6, which expands the available IP address space, is a valid one, said Flux7's Suleman. But he's also overseen IoT projects for the last decade which connected thousands of sensors to older types of networks. Many IoT devices can be connected to one public IP address, he said.  

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.  

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