IoT is evolving like an octopus

June 5, 2017

The octopus has a brain in each tentacle along with one in the head.

The edge of the Internet of Things is where the things themselves live—factory floors, vehicles, oil wells, refineries, retail spaces, even integrated into our bodies. And it can be a harsh world. There’s heat, cold, vibration, dirt, lint, and all manner of environmental factors that make the IoT edge a tough place for technology to survive.  

Along with the physical challenges, the edge is also fraught with technical discord, especially where operational technology (OT) such as facilities and manufacturing processes meets information technology (IT). Data pours out from sensors in all manner of formats, including standard and proprietary connectivity protocols—some brand new, some very old. And the number of things just keeps increasing, with Gartner estimating more than 20 billion by 2020.

It’s a messy, unfiltered, vast and complicated world at the IoT edge, characterized by hundreds of software platforms that are reinventing connectivity at the app layer while still using those foundational standards. And this widespread fragmentation and the lack of a common IoT solution framework (or lingua franca) are hindering broad adoption and stalling market growth.

In many ways, the IoT is similar to an octopus. Yes…you read that right. Here’s what I mean: every octopus has not one brain, not two, not three or even four, but nine brains total, one in each tentacle, along with a central brain in the head. Suction cups act as sensors that feed “data” into the tentacles’ brains, which are coordinated (to the best of researchers’ knowledge) by the central brain in the octopus’ head. That’s a lot like a distributed-analytics architecture stretching from the edge to the fog to the cloud.

To help simplify the messy world of IoT, the Linux Foundation recently formed the EdgeX Foundry Project, a vendor-neutral, open-source project to deliver a flexible, industrial-grade edge-software platform that can quickly and securely deliver interoperability between things, applications and services across a wide range of IoT use cases. The platform leverages a loosely coupled microservices architecture and also includes a required interoperability foundation that comprehends both IP and non-IP based connectivity and reference services that can be easily replaced with preferred alternatives.

And what is the mascot for this project? You guessed it…the octopus. 300 million years of evolution can’t be wrong!

Andy Rhodes is vice president and general manager IoT solution with Dell, which recently launched EdgeX Foundry. Learn more here.