More than a decade ago, I attended a Sun Microsystems conference and remember former Chairman/CEO Scott McNealy talking about a future where a light bulb would know when it was about to die and automatically place an order for a replacement. McNealy's vision was as prescient as always (does anyone now doubt "The Network is the Computer?”), and we are slowly being surrounded by thermostats, refrigerators and bathroom scales that send data to and from the Internet. Enabling these devices introduces a great deal of functionality and convenience for their users, but leads to difficulties for those who design and manage the supporting systems. Fortunately, the cloud offers an optimal platform for the back end.
Complex Hub, Simple Spokes
Because of the limited space for computing or data storage, these end devices tend to be simple data gatherers or displays for data manipulated at another location. All of that data storage and processing can occur within a cloud environment where developers have free rein to build out according to their needs, and system administrators can apply all of the necessary controls to keep it running smoothly and to keep the bad guys out. Cloud provides these basic tools without users having to worry about capex or data center space.
Scaling for Success
According to Business Insider, sales of fitness trackers like Fitbit or the Nike Fuel band are growing at 500 percent a year! This type of growth is usually thought of as a good problem to have, but can be a significant issue for those who host the core applications within their own data center. Cloud platforms allow for easy scaling, both horizontally (adding more servers) and vertically (adding more resources to existing servers). When coupled with the "pay for what you use” model in most cloud platforms, this speed of deployment means that an organization no longer has to make significant investments in anticipation of success, but can rather keep their infrastructure just ahead of the demand curve and minimize financial outlays.
Many of these devices have long lifecycles once purchased (how often do you buy a new bathroom scale?), but consumers have become accustomed to frequent updates for online applications. That Internet-connected scale may initially just send your weight to a web portal for simple viewing, but what if the scale vendor could also send it to your doctor? What if they had an application that allowed you to have weight-loss competitions with your friends? Innovation won't occur as quickly on the actual scale as it will at the hub site. Developing these new applications requires the ability for developers to have quick access to copies of production environments, to build and destroy testing and quality assurance (QA) environments, and then to push that new code to production. Cloud provides a flexible and agile backbone on which all aspects of an application can run.