M2MAPPS: Viewbiquity focuses on the integration of M2M applications with business processes using a “hybrid cloud” approach. Why hybrid?
TOM SHAFRON: I don't think that the requisite technology for full M2M-centric in the cloud solution is in place right now. Moreover we wanted a flexible architecture that would allow solutions to operate independently or in concert with an application server that's in the cloud. The objective was to enable remote management through universal connectivity of geographically disparate devices and business processes. That would allow companies to create an ecosystem and be able to add and drop third-party devices and processes easily and quickly.
M2MAPPS: How did you realize that architecture?
TOM SHAFRON: We started by dividing server functionality between the cloud and the local level. The applications run on one or more off-the-shelf computers, but right now we're looking at tablets. I'd like to come back to the way we see tablets being deployed. Either way, they function as a local application server that communicates with the server that's in the cloud. In addition, the local server, or servers, connects to input and output devices, which can include sensors as well as stand-alone M2M solutions and IP PBXs. Operation is secure and execution is behind a firewall.
The hosted server enables a single Network Operations Center to manage multiple sites and monitor the network performance while supporting multiple devices, applications and resources. In a nutshell, it does the heavy lifting.
M2MAPPS: That’s a very interesting concept. Does it have a name?
M2MAPPS: You mentioned tablets earlier on. What M2M role do you see them playing in future?
TOM SHAFRON: There are really two places that I see tablets making inroads. One is obvious and that's the client side, where tablets are used for viewing and accessing information. They're easy to work with; you carry them around, so you can perform tasks whenever and wherever you want. You can access systems, get data and respond to events without having to go back to your desktop.
The other side, and it's early days, is the use of tablets on the device management side. When tablets are used this way the functionality is similar to the app servers that we currently use. We're starting to employ them in this way because of the touch screen and the intuitive man-machine interface and of course they're significantly cheaper. In addition tablets have core capabilities in the operating system that allow them to talk to different devices and employ different network protocols. This means that the tablet becomes a gateway to devices that might be behind a firewall or in a vehicle or in a host of other places.
M2MAPPS: So basically you're saying that the tablet becomes the server in an M2M client-server architecture. It's got the requisite functionality to perform as an application server?
TOM SHAFRON: Exactly. The tablet can perform equally well on the client-side or as an administration device. They're much more suitable for these tasks compared to smartphones. We considered putting administrative interfaces on smartphones. They're affordable and they have the right communications capabilities but the screen is small, too small for some applications. Tablets have the right form factor. You can use them as a client to view and control information and as an app server/ gateway to capture and share that information. They perform both roles.
Notebooks also have the right screen size and computing resources, but you don't carry them around all the time the way you do with a phone. It's not practical. Tablets bridge the gap: let you look at the data points in real time. They enable faster responses to the data you're receiving.
M2MAPPS: Are there other solution providers who're using tablets in the same or similar ways? Using them as a gateway to third-party apps and business processes.
TOM SHAFRON: I do see people starting to make moves in the same direction. Traditionally you have application platforms working in the cloud and that's about it, but most times they're missing the pieces that would enable connectivity to third-party developers and applications. Enabling connectivity increases the overall value of the solution. Cloud-based services are a positive development for vendors who're expanding their offer, but generally they focus on one specific piece of the puzzle and not on the end-to-end solution, where all the pieces are working together and where there is a single interface and one management system.
M2MAPPS: What functionality do you think is missing right now? And if it is missing then can it be implemented in future?
TOM SHAFRON: There are two different ways that I can answer that question. From our perspective there's what we offer and what we don't offer in the tablet-centric solutions and then there are generic issues that hopefully will be resolved in future. What Viewbiquity doesn't offer today is VoIP, although that will change quite soon. Live video for security systems will be available for our customers in the near future.
I think it's important to point out that there are some fundamental differences between the PC and tablet markets. Because of the lower cost point of tablets, as well as the psychology of ownership, the upgrade cycle is far faster than that of PCs. If someone is developing an application they can't limit usage to Windows 7: there's a huge installed base of PCs running XP and Vista and then there's the Mac. If the PCs aren't broke, they don't need fixing, and people are going to go on using them for several years. Therefore, you can't rely on the latest technology being out there.
With tablets the upgrade cycle is much shorter. Businesses are prepared to buy new devices if they provide useful, additional functionality. Solution providers can tell the customer that they have to upgrade their tablets and this will be acceptable. This means that application developers don't have to support technologies that might be ten years old.
M2MAPPS: When are you going to start deploying tablets in your solutions?
TOM SHAFRON: Real soon. In fact we've designed them into our generic solution and we are currently trialing the use of tablets as app servers for a chain of fast food stores. Retail outlets deal with a lot of suppliers so there is a definite need for solutions that can manage multiple business processes. And tablets are ideal for managers who need to monitor stock levels and issue orders as they walk around the aisles.
M2MAPPS: OK. So, thank you Tom for giving us this interesting update on the upcoming deployment of tablets in M2M solutions that focus on the integration of apps with business processes. This is definitely a space that's worth watching. A final question: it's generic. What's your take on the way that M2M is going to impact on our lives?
TOM SHAFRON: One of the most interesting aspects regarding M2M is that businesses, service providers, and even consumers, will determine how M2M is utilized but they may not be aware that they are doing it. Smart developers and technologists will evaluate market requirements, and use M2M as a conduit to offer pragmatic applications and services to customers. It will continue to be a completely dynamic environment that will continue to evolve in line with customer needs.