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3/24/2014
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MachineShop Gets Internet of Things Talking

Startup's API Services Exchange aims to simplify interactions among the Internet of Things' billions of connected devices, applications, and systems.

CES 2014: Cisco's Internet of Everything Vision
CES 2014: Cisco's Internet of Everything Vision
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The term "Internet of Things" has become as popular as "big data," perhaps more so. It now extends beyond its original scope -- radio-frequency identification tagging of objects in the physical world -- to include a broader view of machine-to-machine interaction.

Here's how the University of Cambridge's Auto-ID Lab, one of seven global research centers studying automatic identification of supply chain objects, describes how enterprises could benefit from the IoT:

Put a tag -- a microchip with an antenna -- on a can of Coke or a car axle, and suddenly a computer can "see" it. Put tags on every can of Coke and every car axle, and suddenly the world changes. No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain -- or how much product is on the store shelves.

Expanded beyond manufacturing, the IoT could enable countless data interactions and transactions as billions of devices -- everything from set-top TV boxes to home thermostats to automobile sensors -- join the global network.

[Connected cars are gaining traction -- but what about privacy? Read Internet Of Things Meets Cars: Security Threats Ahead.]

MachineShop is a Boston-based startup that provides authenticated, metered, and managed APIs for connecting devices to the Internet of Things. The two-year-old company, which exited stealth mode on March 20, provides what it calls a Services Exchange: an API store with business logic, event management, and communications services for developers building and integrating IoT solutions.

Communication on the IoT will occur via standard services or APIs rather than legacy platforms, middleware, or proprietary protocols, said MachineShop CEO Michael Campbell in a phone interview with InformationWeek.

"This is really a new-generation middleware approach," said Campbell. "What we're hoping to do is get folks to understand that there is this domain known as the Internet of Services, a collection of APIs… that probably is as important as the Internet of Things layer itself."

MachineShop faces plenty of entrenched competition, Campbell noted, including "traditional enterprise middleware platform guys" such as IBM, Oracle, and SAP.

"If you're an electric utility and have billions of dollars invested in infrastructure systems that are now being connected to the Internet -- and spewing out terabytes and petabytes of data a day -- your typical course is to work with one of the big enterprise platforms and say, 'Hey, help me get the data out of these systems.' So you put a platform between the applications and the underlying systems."

The second type of competitor is the do-it-yourself enterprise that writes interfaces between data silos and applications. And the third is an API management company such as Mashery (purchased by Intel last year), Apigee, and 3scale.

"The third category I don't view so much as competitors, but as kindred spirits who are part of this new wave of infrastructure software companies," said Campbell. "These companies embraced the API revolution -- that every product, every piece of content would have an API."

One of MachineShop's strategic investors is Diebold, a financial services and security firm best known for its ATM transaction systems. Diebold also employs a wide range of Internet-connected devices, including security cameras, DVRs, and fire-suppression systems for use at retail, bank, and manufacturing sites. "They wanted the ability to provide a very unique, managed service to their customers -- a portal for the head of security operations to get visibility of an entire security operation."

Working with MachineShop, Diebold developed a solution that separates the application layer from the underlying systems and devices. "Literally there are hundreds of thousands of different pieces of equipment… all talking over a couple of different networks up to the application," Campbell said. "We normalize all of that, and allow Diebold to build a really cool new managed service."

MachineShop's public or private Services Exchange allows customers to subscribe to thousands of managed API-centric services, including those developed by MachineShop, its customers, or third parties, the company said.

Improved platforms, standards, bandwidth rates, and data models mean more IT shops are taking a "cloud-first" approach to new services, keeping only select jobs in house. But what's often left out of the calculus is the impact on the end-user when you outsource most services. Register for this InformationWeek editorial webinar and learn how to avoid the pitfalls of outsourcing IT. The Performance From The User's Perspective webinar happens March 28. Registration is free.

Jeff Bertolucci is a technology journalist in Los Angeles who writes mostly for Kiplinger's Personal Finance, The Saturday Evening Post, and InformationWeek. View Full Bio

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Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
3/26/2014 | 11:02:31 AM
Our poor networks
It's quite interesting to note that the bandwidth that will be required in the future to power the IoT will be quite demanding when you think of the sheer amount of data that will be transmitted between devices from smart monitors to health devices.  This means a great opportunity to rethink traditional services such as WAN optimization which would focus on API driven data from these devices, plus security and storage.  Not to mention the applications which would analyze the data collected.  An exciting future for sure, and great to see the increased interest around the future of connected devices.
GregJ-MachineShop
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GregJ-MachineShop,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/25/2014 | 6:33:21 PM
Re: What sets MachineShop apart?
Excellent question. For Diebold one of the major requirements was the ability to interact with 100's of different systems and physical devices that comprise the underlying foundation of their solution. MachineShop has tremedous experience and expertise in that arena and our Service Exchange can easily expose those edge points as RESTful API's even when the device/system itself is not very web service friendly. It is important that these interactions are bi-directional and are exposed in such a way that the application developer does not know the low-level details of the commands but instead can deal with them on a metadata basis. 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 6:57:04 PM
Re: 'Data soverignty' important on Internet of Things
"Data sovereignty" sounds like it will be about as workable as limiting the flow of data across national borders. Absent visibility into everyone's databases, there's not really any way to be sure who has what data or how it's being used.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 5:59:48 PM
'Data soverignty' important on Internet of Things
Machine Shop is onto a problem that will arise with the Internet of Things: identifying who owns the data from one device that looks a lot like someone else's data from an identical device, then capturing it and maintaining ownership. Cisco said this morning that managing "data soverignty" -- who owns it in what country -- will be an increasingly important issue.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 3:25:32 PM
What sets MachineShop apart?
It makes sense that Diebold used MachineShop's middleware to "develop a solution that separates the application layer from the underlying systems and devices." That pretty much defines the role of middleware. It also makes sense that the company can contrast itself with expensive, incumbent commercial middleware options from the likes of IBM, Oracle, and SAP. What's not clear -- and perhaps MachineShop can pipe up on this -- is how the company's technology compares and contrasts with open source middleware and options for using plain-vanilla Web services and REST interfaces etc. for doing this sort of work?
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