Cloud: An enabler for a smarter home

Note: This week and through Jan. 4 we are posting the top 10 posts of 2012. This post is #9 and was originally published March 15, 2012.

Today’s Internet of people is evolving into an “Internet of things,” because soon there will be more than one trillion connected devices. By 2013, 1.2 billion connected consumer electronics devices are expected in the more than 800 million homes with broadband connections.

Imagine a home that is instrumented with sensors and actuators to control and optimize over the Internet your:

  • Windows, doors, blinds, light switches
  • Environment: heating, air conditioning
  • Appliances: clothes washer & dryer, dishwasher
  • Utility meters: water, electricity, gas
  • Entertainment: TV, BD player, audio system
  • Security: surveillance cameras
  • Endless list of consumer products of the future

What makes a home smarter, rather than just smart?

IBM has defined three characteristics that distinguish this new generation of household devices: Instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent.

  • Instrumented is the ability to sense and monitor changing conditions. Instrumented devices provide increasingly detailed information and control about their own functioning and also provide information about the environment in which they operate. For instance, a clothes washer can report information about the state of its components to support preventive maintenance for avoiding unforeseen outages. At the same time, it can sense its wash load to optimize its operation; it can send usage information to the manufacturer for data driven product innovation and it can be switched on by external signals when the energy cost is lowest.
  • Interconnected is the ability to communicate and interact with people, systems, and other objects. Interconnected devices make possible remote access to information about a device and control of the device. This way enables services throughout the Internet, removing complexity from the home and lowering costs for the service providers. At the same time, it supports the aggregation of information and control of devices throughout the network. This means that consumers can get a consistent view of their devices, both from home and from mobile devices. For service providers, it provides an aggregate view of customer characteristics according to criteria such as geographic location, consumption patterns, or types of service.
  • Intelligent is the ability to make decisions based on data, leading to better outcomes. Intelligent devices support the optimization of their use, both for the individual consumer and for the service provider. For instance, a utility can send signals to consumers’ homes to manage discretionary energy use in order to reduce peak loads. By coordinating this process throughout an entire service area, the utility can optimize the peak reduction, while saving the consumers money on their bills.

Compared with previous attempts to enable the “smart home,” where the intelligence was based on centralized control through a home server or gateway, the intelligence and with it the complexity in the new smarter home is moved out from the home onto the network, or more precisely the Internet cloud.

This new paradigm creates opportunities for innovative services, which build on the computational power and scalability of the cloud, along with the collective consumer knowledge. Data that is aggregated and then stored within the cloud can provide dramatic new insights about consumer needs and behavior. Ultimately, this paradigm facilitates a host of possibilities, from radically improving the performance of current devices and services, to delivering consumer benefits that have not yet even been considered.

Cloud-based Service Delivery Platform (SDP) is the key in the smarter home

We are aware of the following key advantages of the SDP from the telecommunication world:

  • Managing the complexity of service deployments means that third-party service providers can focus on the specific value they add, without having to acquire the skill or expend the capital to build a full-function service infrastructure.
  • Using services oriented architecture and Web 2.0 technologies, the SDP enables collaboration for a more agile service creation.
  • Common storefront technology enables service providers to integrate their business processes and store fronts for monetizing their services more efficiently.

Implementing the SDP concept in the cloud can revolutionize the ecosystem for the smarter home. Cloud computing technology creates an ideal environment for an intelligent, highly efficient, and highly flexible utility approach to services in the network. At the hardware infrastructure level, cloud computing enables the flexible, dynamic and low-touch provisioning of resources to applications. The creation of virtual service images supports the easy life cycle management and deployment of services. Finally, standardized web services interfaces to the services enable the dynamic composition of individual services into flexible solutions in a plug-and-play mode.

The cloud for managing the consumer services can extend directly into the home. A services “clone” can directly interact with services in the network, in effect becoming part of the cloud. This clone can function as a limited local replica of some services, delivering control even in the case of a network failure. It can also ease the connection of home devices to the network by translating protocols and acting as traffic concentrator. The ability to adapt any type of network and application protocols increases the choice of devices and services for consumers.

Cloud technology, whether in the form of software as a service (SaaS) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), improves service management by speeding up the time to market and lowering the management cost for service management, resource management and life cycle management. It reduces the resources cost by enabling more efficient allocation of fractional hardware resources to virtual service images. I think most value will come from business process as a service (BPaaS) form of cloud technology; one already finds a number of BPaaS provided by various services providers as independent service provider or as a value-added service to existing consumers.

Examples include surveillance services, medical monitoring services provided by some private clinics to elderly patients living alone at home, or entertainment services provided by TV program broadcasters.

Let’s explore the role of the cloud based entertainment services

In the entertainment industry, the cloud-based services provider model (broadband content services) is already creating major dynamic changes on the content delivery side, where instead of content sale, model is moving from discrete content sale to connected content services model.  Alternatively, the interconnected smarter devices are changing the industry from discrete product model to the connected devices model. Today, consumers expect their content on any screen, any device.

Yes, although the cloud and smarter devices help content to be accessible on any screen and device, and be economical, scalable, and secure, the industry standards are equally important. There are new standards such as Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV (HbbTV), which are trying to create an open and business-neutral technology platform that seamlessly combines TV services delivered by broadcast with services delivered by broadband, and also enables access to Internet-only services for consumers using connected TVs and set-top boxes. The HbbTV specification is based on existing standards and web technologies including Open IPTV Forum (OIPF), CEA, DVB, and W3C. The HbbTV standard provides the features and functionality required to deliver feature-rich broadcast and Internet services.

Summary

Yes, the cloud is indeed an enabler for the smarter home as it takes care of the highly fluctuating computing needs; it provides flexible service management, and enables remote access and real-time monitoring of the cloud-based services. To meet the consumer expectations of the smarter home, continued development of industry standards is important; and the good news is, the various industry participants are working hard to develop required standards. I think in next year or two, Internet of things will be a normal way of life because today’s Internet of people and cloud technology will play a key enablement role.

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Biren Gandhi

About Biren Gandhi

Biren Gandhi is Global Renewable Energy Solutions Leader at IBM Global Business Service’s Global CoC for E&U. He operates from IBM’s Frankfurt office. Biren has advised and consulted with large global renewable companies to setup world class operations and maintenance systems for onshore and offshore wind energy generation and its integration with the grid. He has authored IBM's Smarter Renewable Energy reference architecture to take advantage of industrialization of renewable energy source such as wind and solar. You can reach him at biren.gandhi@de.ibm.com, LinkedIn:gandhibiren, Twitter: gandhibiren
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2 Responses to Cloud: An enabler for a smarter home

  1. Steven says:

    Cloud can can certainly play an important role in making home smarter. Good read.

  2. Everything is moving to the cloud. I just moved my entire business to the cloud, except email. I want to move email as well but will deal with that later. Now my workstations/laptops are simply empty boxes that I dont need to really worry about crashing and losing data.

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