Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Friday, May 20, 2022

IBM to Invest $3B to Bring IoT to the Enterprise 

The money keeps pouring into the thing called the Internet of Things.

IBM joined a growing list of technology giants this week in announcing plans to invest $3 billion over the next four years to "connect the Internet of Things to the enterprise." The effort announced Tuesday (March 31) includes plans to build a cloud platform that would help partners develop IoT applications.

The company also announced an expansion of its IoT ecosystem to include chip and device makers, including ARM Ltd.

With a clear emphasis on helping enterprises boost their data analytics capabilities, IBM offered this definition of the still amorphous IoT: "an integrated fabric of devices, data, connections, processor and people."

While other IoT entrants like Cisco Systems and Intel are focusing on IoT plumbing, including open interconnects to devices and sensors as well as networking software, IBM appears to be doubling down on its earlier bets on platforms like Smarter Planet and, more recently, its Bluemix platform-as-a-service.

The analytics emphasis that parallels efforts by other IoT players emphasizes an IoT cloud platform designed to help enterprises deal with the waterfall of unstructured data being generated by connected devices and sensors. Hence, IBM's initiative seeks to throw a life preserver to companies quickly drowning in data.

IBM said partners and customers could use its IoT cloud platform to develop "vertical industry IoT solutions." One example was analyzing data from connected cars to help insurers develop "dynamic pricing models" and offering customized services to individual drivers.

Bluemix, IBM's cloud application development platform, is also getting a facelift as part of the IoT initiative. The company said it would add new IoT services as part of Bluemix to funnel real-time data into cloud-based development of IoT apps. By embedding analytics into IoT apps, IBM said it could help upgrade existing applications like asset and facilities management.

Along with the cloud-based IoT platform initiatives, IBM also said it is expanding its ecosystem of partners to include silicon and device manufacturers. Among these are AT&T, the analog and mixed signal chipmaker Semtech and, significantly, microprocessor intellectual property vendor ARM.

U.K.-based ARM, which has made limited headway into the server market dominated by Intel's x-86 processors, has already rolled out an "IoT starter kit" that includes and Ethernet version of its microcontroller designed to connect with IBM's Internet of Things infrastructure. ARM's "mbed" microcontroller functions as a drive on a computer and is designed to help users visualize device data in real time.

Meanwhile, Semtech and IBM announced a technology partnership in early March focused on low-power, wide-area networks to support machine-to-machine communications. Those networks would form the networking backbone of the IoT. The partners said the networking technology is capable of connecting sensors over long distances using minimal power and infrastructure.

As part of its IoT push, IBM also announced an alliance with The Weather Company that will allow the forecaster to collect data from weather sensors and mobile devices. The partners said they would use the platform to help customers use weather prediction in their businesses. IBM and other companies have been trying to build businesses around using long-term weather forecasts to help companies reduce business risks and make informed bets in areas like the pricing of commodities.

IBM's investment is further evidence that the Internet of Things is moving from a buzz phrase to a revenue-generating business model that seeks to leverage cloud computing and big data analytics. Along with IoT partnerships, major players have also been moving to secure backbone technologies needed to flesh out their IoT strategies. For example, Intel is reportedly in talks to acquire programmable logic specialist Altera Corp., a move analysts said would help boost the chip maker's IoT efforts.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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