Just having seen Passengers in the theater the other night, I reflected on how soon we might see a self-piloted space vessel like this transporting passengers through deep space. This incredible film features a spacecraft that is a work of IoT art, where things interact with one another to manage some of the harshest conditions imaginable. As an advocate for open source software and the innovation derived from its collaborative development methodology, I have a deep interest in how the journey to an IoT where a future like this is possible can benefit from open source solutions. I would even argue that the acceptance of open source methodologies has helped IoT gain momentum, capture mindshare and quickly deliver real results.
Mature open standards and communications protocols derived from open source projects have made it easier for disparate devices to communicate across network boundaries and for the data communicated to be read, sorted, analyzed and acted upon. What some see as science fiction today can more quickly be brought to fruition.
Let’s look at five areas where open source solutions help accelerate IoT implementations: interoperability, innovation, time to market, transparency and extensibility.
The key word here is open. Systems, sensors and devices all need to be able to communicate with one another. They need to interoperate with many different types of systems. Consider how each subsystem within the ship was interconnected, enough so that some could take up the slack when other areas weren’t working. Open standards-based communications protocols provide the flexibility for them to do this. In the dynamic environment required by IoT, proprietary systems can cause bottlenecks or not deliver the required interoperability.
But it’s not only about device communication. Complete IoT solutions are made up of products and partners who must work together. Successful IoT business ecosystems require infrastructure vendors, systems integrators, telco operators, software/platform/analytics vendors, and other industry players to be able to communicate and share information across different networks and infrastructures. They need to communicate and share information just as hardware sensors deliver data to back-end systems. Open source-based communities work together through open standards and protocols, thus enabling wider integration of their platforms and devices contributing to the success of these implementations.
Innovation is at the heart of IoT deployments. It’s about finding new ways to create value out of accumulated data. When you operate in an open source environment, you can take advantage of the open source community’s ability to accelerate innovation.
Open source communities can innovate faster because they aren’t resource-constrained; anyone can contribute, anyone can participate. Even if you’re a small company, you can get a whole community of engineers to help you. If there’s something specific you need, you can start a project and get a whole community to work on it with you. The very nature of open source lends itself to cooperative work where people are working for a common cause.
At the end of the day, an open source project isn’t just yours, it’s everyone’s — and everyone benefits. You benefit from more ideas on how to solve problems, and more opportunities for testing. It allows you to remain small and agile, focusing your work on building value on top of it for your own solution.
Time to market
Being quick and agile is more important today than ever before. At this point, many businesses are starting IoT pilots, seeking to prove the business value and test the technology choices for their solution. Open source solutions help you bring the internet of things to life quickly, cost effectively and with lower risk. With a large open source ecosystem already in place, IoT projects can be deployed faster by taking advantage of the foundation that’s already there.
Open source projects are just that — open. There are many eyes looking at the code from all angles. This also contributes to the pace of innovation. And while it may seem counterintuitive, being open actually contributes to the security and robustness of the solution. Because the development process is collaborative, bugs, flaws and vulnerabilities can be found sooner and fixed more quickly. When you have greater transparency, you have more people looking for problems so they can be resolved before they become an issue.
When you build an IoT solution, you want to build it to withstand the test of time. It needs to be able to adapt as new technologies are introduced. IoT is evolving rapidly; you can be sure that there will be change. Your business will grow and things will need to be added. It’s important that you don’t lock yourself out of opportunities that might present themselves in the near future.
Open source solutions provide you with a foundation that’s flexible; one that doesn’t lock you into a specific software stack or software business model that prevents scaling. Keeping your systems open will ensure that the latest innovations will be available to you.
The full promise of the internet of things can really only be met when everything can connect securely and provide the reliability and scalability needed for enterprise-grade applications. Many of the technologies represented in this film really aren’t beyond the realm of possibility. And there is much beauty to be found within these possibilities — new hopes, new dreams and new beginnings. The collaboration found within open source communities can increase the pace of this IoT innovation and ensure solutions remain viable and effective for the long haul.
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