The Connected Future: Chattering Machines Demand Better Orchestration

Chris Purdy, CTO, CENX
December 15, 2014
There are more than 7 billion people on this planet – but many, many more things. Already some 40% of the world’s population has Internet access and can, in theory, communicate – just wait till those other things get in on the act. How will we ever manage the Internet of Things?
Analysts agree that machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is an exploding growth market. Machina Research has the number of connected devices rising from 3bn in 2012 to 18bn by 2022 – of which 2.6bn will be wireless Wide Area Network (WAN) connections. And, according to Infonetics Research, this level of growth would generate USD1.3 trillion dollars in revenue.
Already phones are synchronising with tablets and computers, and we have the first wave of smart watches, activity monitors and wearable devices. The connected car made headlines at this year’s motor shows, with Juniper Research predicting 100 million cars with Internet access by 2016. More significant for the average household is the move to replace utility meters serviced by field staff with remotely readable and controllable smart meters. According to Analysys Mason, these LPWA (Low Power Wide Area) technologies alone could add 3bn connections worldwide by 2023.
With so many, and so diverse, things to connect, the Internet of Things (IoT) will be a very busy space – but is it so different from the Internet that already links 3 billion humans?
Human to human communication relies on our intelligence to compensate for best-effort Internet: the signal is weak so you step outside while your brain unscrambles what you thought you heard and prepares a few short questions. We can even allow for foreign language speakers. But what will happen when an enterprise’s fire alarm is communicating with the water meter as well as the approaching fire engine: will they all speak the same language? How will they cope with a dropped signal?
It is not just the scale and the dynamism of M2M communication that is formidable, but also its demands for high quality connectivity. Human staff can work around a missed call, but a misconfigured Point-of-Sale device would result in revenue leakage and unhappy business customers. Healthcare organisations are already using mobile devices for recording patient data instead of clip-boards; next is remote monitoring and diagnosis of patients at home –then M2M reliability becomes a matter of life or death.
Today’s public Internet cannot be trusted to deliver the consistent level of service, reliability, security and flexibility to deliver something as essential as real-time monitoring, let alone the full implications of M2M communication. Instead there is a growing demand for business services that deliver assured connectivity tailored to an enterprise’s M2M stringent requirements. The performance and security of private Carrier Ethernet (CE) networks can meet the engineering demands, but it still takes weeks to tailor and deploy such a solution to the enterprise. In comparison, the Internet delivers connection on demand from anywhere in the world, but is unsuitable for M2M applications since it offers no guarantees of security, reliability or performance.
M2M applications require innovative solutions like Service Orchestration to automate the entire lifecycle of service ordering, provisioning, implementation, analytics, and assurance, so that quality-assured business services can be rolled out quickly. This is in line with the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) vision of a “Third Network” that combines the best of CE 2.0 and the Internet to deliver agile, assured and orchestrated “networking as a service”: the customer signs up and pays for a certain type and level of service, and that will be immediately available anywhere – regardless of the network technology delivering that service. And the customer will be assured that the high level of service will continue to be available as long as needed.
No service provider could promise such level of service without automated Lifecycle Service Orchestration to support the demands of planning, fulfilment, monitoring, assurance, and the necessary analytics. It is a tall order, but equipment vendors are working closely with service providers to meet the challenge. CENX’s Cortx Service Orchestrator, for instance, offers end-to-end lifecycle management for services across multiple technology domains, multiple equipment vendors and multiple providers.
Any service provider so equipped to deliver and manage enterprise-quality services – and to do so quickly, efficiently and on-demand – will gain a running start in the M2M market.