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The power of IoT on display at Cloud Expo Asia

Bernard Golden | Nov. 11, 2015
You think mobile’s big? Just wait until the Internet of Things transforms everything around us, from milk cartons to highway overpasses.

tetra pak
A customer takes a milk tetra pak from the dairy department of a Carrefour grocery store in Brussels.  Credit: Eric Vidal/Reuters

Since he announced it in 2011, Marc Andreessen’s statement that “software is eating the world” has become a truism with a pride of place in every presenter’s deck (full disclosure: it’s featured prominently in mine). 

Recently, Benedict Evans of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (seeing a pattern here?) writes that “mobile is eating the world.” He asserts that mobile phones will achieve the following:

  1. Become the de facto Internet access device.
  2. Bring billions of new users onto the Internet 

Without disagreeing with either of these statements (actually, I agree strongly with both), their statements reflect points in time. The future of our society and economy is digital, yes. Humans will overwhelmingly use mobile devices to carry on their Internet-based daily lives. 

However, both of these statements overlook one salient fact of technology history: the inexorable trend of computing devices, due to Moore’s Law, is that useful work can be done in smaller and smaller form factors, which, due to greater convenience and lower prices, explode in deployed volumes. The unstoppable system architecture of the future is a small device talking to a cloud-based application. The question is, what is that small device? I assert that mobile phones will come to represent a tiny percentage of the client devices operating on the Internet. Why? 

Because located out beyond the mobile phone horizon is the next form factor: the Internet of Things. These are even smaller computing devices that are typically devoted to performing one function, unlike mobile phones, which are the Swiss Army Knives of computing, serving as personal transportation coordinators, activity trackers, movie ticket buyers, and a myriad of other tasks. 

Another reality of IoT devices is that there will be hundreds of billions of them, vastly outstripping even the number of mobile phones in the hands of users. Moreover, most of them will not be used by humans, but will be standalone devices monitoring some environmental factor or effectuating some physical action (referred to as sensors and actuators, respectively). 

While most people are aware of IoT, I feel that they significantly underestimate what IoT will represent. IoT will be much more omnipresent and highly varied that most of us can understand. Literally, every physical thing in our environment is likely to be remade as a connected device. 

This variety was brought home to me last week at Cloud Expo Asia (CEA), held in Singapore. CEA is a fascinating show, held in a fascinating place. I always enjoy spending time in Singapore because it is the crossroads of Asia and is a nation with enormous energy and ambition, located in a region that, in many ways, represents the leading edge of trends that will eventually wash up on the shores of Europe and the America. 


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