The Changing Channel

How To Develop Your IP for the 'Internet of Things'

The first step for Microsoft partners, Howard argues, is to acknowledge that there is no "Internet of Things."

Remember that Microsoft Worldwide Channel Chief Phil Sorgen tells us, "Our job at Microsoft is to provide a platform that partners can be successful selling their solutions on." Another way to think about that is that "infrastructure" no longer constitutes a "solution." Rather, infrastructure is just an enabler. Real "solutions" going forward will need to evolve to be far more business-relevant.

To inspire and drive this "Evolution of Solution," I'll focus on where you're going to find and develop those solutions, your distinctiveness, your intellectual property (IP). This month I'll look at the Internet of Things (IoT). I'll start off by acknowledging one important fact: There is no Internet of Things.

Yes, this is coming from the same guy who pointed out that there is no "cloud." But it's undeniably true that there's no separate network being developed to accommodate "things." In fact, it has been suggested that there have been more things than people connected to the Internet since 2008. One analyst suggests that we should call it all "Things on the Internet." Yawn.

Nonetheless, for those of you who depend on infrastructure for your livelihood -- those who will be most negatively impacted by the growth of Microsoft Azure and Office 365 -- this latest hype-a-thon around the IoT offers real opportunities.

The phrase "Internet of Things" really refers to the challenges facing hardware manufacturers, software developers, network engineers and others as more and more "things" are being attached to the Internet.

The challenge is these things that are being attached to the Internet don't have it quite as good as people do. In fact, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the group that actually makes sure the Internet keeps working better and better, only recently approved RPL, the router protocol that will be used to connect all these things. This is a nested acronym that stands for Router Protocol for LLNs, which in turn stands for Low-Power and Lossy Networks.

If Low-Power and Lossy Networks doesn't sound bad enough, here's how the IETF characterized the things that are being attached to them in its Request for Comment (RFC) 6550, issued in March 2012: "Low-Power and Lossy Networks (LLNs) consist largely of constrained nodes (with limited processing power, memory, and sometimes energy when they are battery operated or energy scavenging)."

The networks themselves didn't fare much better in the RFC: "These routers are interconnected by lossy links, typically supporting only low data rates, that are usually unstable with relatively low packet delivery rates. Another characteristic of such networks is that the traffic patterns are not simply point-to-point, but in many cases point-to-multipoint or multipoint-to-point. Furthermore, such networks may potentially comprise up to thousands of nodes."

The key point is: "These characteristics offer unique challenges to a routing solution."

Here's where you come in. As you learn more about the kinds of "things" your customers want to attach to the Internet, you can become more adept at "tuning" parameters in your customers' networks to better accommodate LLNs. Making the devices better becomes far too expensive far too fast at the scale being described, so the only solution is better code at the transport layer.

This is your opportunity to take your TCP/IP skills to the next level where they can do some real good. Compensating for the impracticality of improving "things" as they're connected to the Internet by improving their code stack is just one example of a business-relevant solution you can deliver.

In the coming months I'll be examining many viable alternatives to an infrastructure-centered business. Microsoft will continue to be a fact of life in the solutions you provide to your customers, but the company's looking to you to express your own individuality in bringing new, innovative solutions to market. After more than three decades as a Microsoft partner, I believe it's doing what's best for its stakeholders, which is trying to prepare the partner community to make necessary changes in their business models.

My hope is to spark an ongoing conversation about new, innovative services, technologies, strategies and requirements you can bring to customers.

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About the Author

Technologist, creator of compelling content, and senior "resultant" Howard M. Cohen has been in the information technology industry for more than four decades. He has held senior executive positions in many of the top channel partner organizations and he currently writes for and about IT and the IT channel.