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The promise of the internet of things is distinctly digital. But many of the sensors and machines being integrated into IoT systems have analog interfaces. "This means that a new software infrastructure has to be put in place," said Christian Renaud, research director at 451 Research. Underscoring both the magnitude and the potential impact of such work, Renaud tracks 318 vendors in the IoT market trying to fill current software infrastructure voids, including those in the IoT platform market.
Exosite is one of those suppliers. Its Murano platform is a cloud-based system designed to help businesses connect the wide and varied number of IoT devices to information technology back-end systems, such as enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management applications. The startup has had some success: about 200 businesses worldwide are in various stages of deploying the firm's solution. However, IoT's looming consolidation may mean uncertain days for Exosite's autonomy both as a company and as a platform.
The bane of proprietary interfaces
Given the diversity and complexity of IoT solutions, integration work is frequently needed to tie IoT devices into back-end IT systems. To date, this work has been ad hoc, with large organizations forced to reckon with daunting numbers of proprietary devices and system interfaces.
Emil Berthelsenprincipal analyst and industrial and enterprise IoT stream lead, Machina Research
"IoT is at an early stage and far from a 'single' market," said Emil Berthelsen, principal analyst and industrial and enterprise IoT stream lead at Machina Research. "Work is underway, but the ecosystems are substantial and diversity of applications significant."
IoT is expected to make such work easier through the development and movement toward industry standard solutions. Such products are now being deployed in a few vertical markets, such as manufacturing, utilities and automobiles, but sectors like finance and retail are just starting to build up their new ecosystems. Renaud estimated that a decade or longer will pass before these applications are commonplace in many vertical markets.
Filling in gaps in the IoT platform market
In 2009, Exosite's founders saw an opportunity to fill the holes by building a cloud-based IoT software platform, one capable of acting as an end-to-end software ecosystem.
The Murano infrastructure includes:
- Device connectivity: Murano enables organizations to connect IoT devices (sensors, smart meters, etc.) to the cloud, and manages device configuration, firmware updates and security keys.
- Roles and permissions management: User roles and access permissions play a critical role in IoT security. Murano enables businesses to incorporate authentication, management and role definition into their applications.
- Custom APIs: Murano allows organizations to define custom web-service APIs that give developers the flexibility to decide what context, application logic and device or user access works best for their solutions.
- Third-party integration: The platform is designed to link IoT devices to business applications, such as Salesforce CRM software, messaging platforms like Twilio, business reporting tools, cloud dispatch services and analytics.
- Application hosting and framework: Murano also provides application hosting.
Developing a strong foundation
Exosite is trying to leverage the work of various standards groups. The Murano platform supports IT standards, such as Openshift and HTTP, as well as device standards like CoAP and MQTT, according to Mark Benson, CTO at Exosite. The Murano solution runs on Amazon Web Services, but is also compatible with IBM and Microsoft Azure cloud services.
To lure suppliers, systems integrators and the channel market, the company has launched a 75-member partner program, the Exosite IoT Alliance. Microchip Technology Inc. is one such partner, selling microcontroller, mixed-signal, analog and Flash IP embedded solutions. As the IoT platform market began to take shape, the firm was looking for partners that could help businesses deploy IoT solutions, said Mike Ballard, vertical market business leader at Microchip. The company has used the ExositeReady Embedded SDK and the Microchip Wi-Fi Client Module Development Kit to link Microchip's embedded systems to the Exosite platform so customers can construct end-to-end IoT solutions.
While the Alliance is no doubt a smart move and Exosite has developed a first generation of customers, the largely self-funded company has yet to turn a profit. That's hardly uncommon in the tech startup world, but amid fears that market uncertainly will cool down venture capital investments; finding the funding needed to capture IoT platform market share may prove as big a challenge as getting Murano built in the first place.
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