Machine-to-machine (M2M) communications is an emerging concept for connecting embedded devices to one another and to back-end systems using open technology such as cellular networks. This connectivity enables smart services that can lower costs, raise revenues, and improve service for end customers.
To get a better understanding of this technology, I asked a panel of industry experts to share their perspectives. Here’s what I learned.
What is M2M communications? How does this technology differ from traditional approaches to networking embedded devices?
Fred Yentz, President and CEO of ILS Technology: I think Peggy Smedley defined M2M quite succinctly for Connected World Magazine’s July/August issue when she wrote, “M2M provides machines with the ability to communicate data, connecting people, devices, networks, and everyday objects, while interpreting much-needed information that can be acted upon in a timely manner.”
Kevin Rhoads, Vice President Embedded Products, Kontron: The simplest definition for M2M is any technology that supports wired or wireless communication between machines. M2M streamlines communications for a network of machines that traditionally would have to route information back to a central hub for analysis and then be rerouted into another system or PC.
Peter Thompson, Chief Scientist, GoS Networks : The term 'M2M' is very broad, but the main sense in which it is being used today is to mean autonomous communications between embedded devices (smart meters, refrigerators, cars etc.) and some central platform, across a telecoms operator's network. Traditional approaches used only local interconnections and local management, and thus had no economy of scale.
Kurt Hochanadel, Product Manager, Eurotech Inc.: M2M communications happens transparently to the people or systems that consume the data. The technology is moving away from strictly embedded computing and connectivity into more of an IT solution that allows data to move freely to consumers and applications.
Traditional approaches were very focused and distinct, with protocols, interfaces, applications, and delivery methods tied to a specific vertical market. M2M communication in general is building common standards so devices can communicate information more freely.
What are the benefits of M2M? What applications are taking advantage of this technology, and how?
Kurt Hochanadel: M2M benefits depend on the application, but in essence the benefits of relaying actionable data in near real-time cost-effectively throughout an ecosystem of consumers allow for increased efficiencies and services. M2M allows companies to be more situationally aware, so they can take actions as an agile organization based on near real-time data. M2M also allows companies to manage their devices, configure and provision them, and track those enterprise assets remotely and cost effectively.
Applications such as Telehealth, Asset Management, Location-based Services, Security and most any telemetry applications are the initial benefactors of this technology. For instance, a security company is using the Device Cloud offering from Eurotech to monitor and manage cash transfers, to effectively “follow the money” for greater accountability to their banking customer.
Kevin Rhoads: M2M offers increased computing, networking and data aggregation efficiencies. The advantages of M2M networks are that collected data becomes actionable data that can be used in real time. Industries that can truly leverage M2M capabilities:
- Industrial automation -- overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is frequently used as a KPI (key performance indicator) by manufacturers
- Building automation, water and wastewater management -- equipment fault, detection and diagnostics
- Energy – analytics can be used so a business can view the cost, carbon footprint of their energy usage
- Medical – keeping accurate track of patient information from in-home care to hospital care or assisted living
Fred Yentz: The objective is to create additional business value for machine owners, machine makers and 3rd party service providers. Today, M2M is allowing applications such as performance based services and predictive maintenance solutions to expand rapidly. For example, equipment service routes can be modified to address only the field assets which are in need of support or service.
Peter Thompson: Another benefit of M2M is economies of scale: one platform can manage a large number of embedded devices; one operator (e.g., a cellular network) can manage different types of devices; one provider (e.g. a utility company) can manage devices connected to a number of different operators. Further benefits are: mobility (if connecting via a cellular network); and separation of concerns (the operator provides the network and makes sure it works while the M2M provider focuses on the application). Early applications include vehicle fleet management and energy management, but many more will follow.
Is M2M the same thing as embedded cloud computing? How are these concepts related?
Kurt Hochanadel: M2M is not entirely the same thing as embedded cloud computing. Embedded cloud computing, or the Device Cloud as Eurotech refers to it, is one way to accomplish M2M using IT centric software tools and frameworks.
M2M is the broader term since encompasses all types of M2M applications including the so-called traditional approaches. Embedded cloud computing talks about M2M in a more IT centric mindset. In essence, embedded cloud computing is a subset of M2M.
Fred Yentz: Cloud Computing can be leveraged in an M2M solution. Any well-designed M2M solution will have a balance of edge-based intelligence in combination with Centralized intelligence and control. The Centralized intelligence can reside in a private network, a public network or “Cloud” depending on the needs of the customer. For example, our M2M Application Platform is capable of hosting applications in the cloud such as SCADA, HMI, ERP or PLM applications from a variety of 3rd party vendors, but the solution is also available in a Customer Located Managed Service Model for those not ready to move to a full Cloud implementation.
Kevin Rhoads: Cloud computing is just one technology that allows M2M communication between devices. The growth for M2M connected computing is accelerating as OEMs launch smart services that utilize cloud computing to communicate and aggregate data.
What should developers look for in an M2M solution? What role does Intel technology play in enabling these solutions?
Kurt Hochanadel: Enterprises want their M2M communications system to be IT-centric, low-cost, flexible, open source, data agnostic, and application agnostic. IT developers are looking for security, scalability, redundancy, configurability, flexibility – everything they demand of a traditional IT data center. To meet these goals, device developers should look for application portability for reusability of code, a software framework for simplicity of development, built in applications and testing tools.
Intel plays a role in providing chipset functionality at a cost affordable to the M2M market. Low power, long life devices need low power, long life processors and chipsets to support M2M applications, which Intel provides. Intel’s role in promoting a new M2M paradigm is also very valuable.
Peter Thompson: Reliability and flexibility are important, especially since many M2M applications will have a long replacement cycle. Intel technology offers the capacity to grow the infrastructure and add new capabilities as time goes on.
Kevin Rhoads: OEMs should look for production-ready solutions that help them accelerate smart services deployment opportunities. For example, Kontron is providing M2M intelligent devices, as well as the infrastructure building blocks to enable M2M technology data from the point of collection through the cloud to the point of aggregation and decision making.
A major benefit of selecting an open Intel Architecture platform is the rich ecosystem of software partners that have already developed solutions that support M2M smart services. Intel has a support partner for every aspect an OEM would need from OS through middleware, software companies have ready proven OS and the horizontal hosting services needed for provisioning or updating an M2M system.
Fred Yentz: Business and technical innovators should look for a few key attributes when evaluating M2M solutions. These attributes include an integrated solution with compute and communications resources on board, in addition to a solution which can quickly tie into your existing back end systems. This combination of Hardware, Software and Service defines the ILS Technology “M2M Deployment Kit”. This kit combines the Intel M2M gateway with ILS Technology’s deviceWISE M2M agent, deviceWISE M2M Application Platform Subscription and a broadband subscription from one of the ILS Technology Carrier partners, enabling a solution proof point to be completed within days.
M2M solutions can provide infrastructure, applications, and even field devices as a service. This can greatly speed deployment, but it also gives developers less control over the system details. What would you say to developers who are worried about relinquishing control?
Peter Thompson: The essence of M2M is to pass responsibility for the communications infrastructure to someone else and to concentrate on developing the application.
Kurt Hochanadel: From an IT perspective, if the administrators and programmers are no longer responsible for a data center for a specific M2M application because they are using the Device Cloud, they do give up control of things like server purchasing, maintenance, programming, and other data center functions. Frankly, few enterprises, if any, can put anywhere near the resources into securing and building their data center than cloud companies like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft can. What the enterprise IT team gains is the ability to focus their attention on what brings the most value to the organization, what interfaces they can build to internal systems, how they can make the best use of the data they’re bringing it through the Device Cloud, and how they’re saving money for their company.
Kevin Rhoads: Each individual developer will have a distinct value proposition in the M2M deployment of smart services. The systems that are deployed include hardware gateways, OS, M2M software, security features and transactional revenue from device to cloud and cloud to client business models. The control of the systems details will be dictated by the total solution proposed to each customer.
If a developer wants to explore the possibilities of M2M, where can they start? How can you help developers get up to speed on this new technology?
Kurt Hochanadel: Device developers want to work with M2M reference platforms as a starting point, which Eurotech is working with Intel and others to provide. It has several I/O options to start with, along with a software framework and Wind River operating system on a hardware reference platform.
For the developers who are ready to explore the benefits of the Device Cloud as a way to perform M2M communications, Eurotech offers an Intel-based development kit that includes a 90-day trial of the Eurotech’s Everyware Device Cloud for connectivity between the device and enterprise. Developers can quickly try their application on the device and share data over the device cloud.
Fred Yentz: I would recommend picking up a deviceWISE M2M Deployment Kit. It’s like a pilot in a box that allows you to get your asset connected and have a glimpse into the potential of full-scale M2M solutions in hours or days rather than weeks or months.
Kevin Rhoads: Kontron has developed a white paper for the purpose of helping designers better understand M2M market trends and usage models, available hardware and software platforms, industry challenges and how Kontron’s M2M solutions can facilitate development of Internet smart services applications. This useful white paper can be downloaded at us.kontron.com/whitepaper-M2M.
Kontron also has additional details on all these subjects on its website us.kontron.com/simplify-and-speed-your-entry-into-the-m2m-marketplace.
Peter Thompson: You can also find joint whitepapers we’ve created with Intel at our website www.gosnetworks.com.
For more on extending the Internet to embedded devices, see intel.com/go/embedded-connectivity
For more information on the solutions from our panelists, please visit the following sites:
- Kontron: us.kontron.com/simplify-and-speed-your-entry-into-the-m2m-marketplace
- Eurotech: www.eurotech.com/en/solutions/device+to+cloud
- ILS Technology: www.ilstechnology.com
- GoS Networks: www.gosnetworks.com
Kontron is a Premier member of the Intel® Embedded Alliance. Eurotech is an Associate member of the Alliance. ILS Technology is an Affiliate member of the Alliance. GoS Networks is a General member of the Alliance.
Roving Reporter (Intel Contractor), Intel® Embedded Alliance
Editor-In-Chief, Embedded Innovator magazine
Follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/#!/kentonwilliston