GE preps industrial-strength cloud of its own

August 5, 2015, 4:01 AM UTC
General Electric Co.'s Aviation Test Facility Ahead of Earnings Figures
A GEnx-1B commercial jet engine hangs from the ceiling of a test tunnel at the GE Aviation Test Operations facility in Peebles, Ohio, U.S., on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. General Electric Co. (GE) is scheduled to release earnings figures on April 17. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Luke Sharrett – Getty Images

It’s no secret that General Electric (GE) has glommed onto the concept of the Internet of industrial things big time. Or that it has lots of experience in big, industrial “things.” Or that it wants to be a bigger player in information technology. So, it should come as no surprise that it plans to launch its own cloud crafted to handle industrial data and applications

So on Tuesday, GE is formally announcing Predix Cloud which it is building specifically to handle the types of data generated by jet engines, MRI scanners, power generation equipment, and other heavy-duty gear, Harel Kodesh, vice president and general manager of GE Software’s Predix group told Fortune.

The cloud, which is in beta test in parts of GE, will be rolled out to other corporate groups by year’s end, and to outside customers in 2016.

To back up, the Internet of things refers to a web of connected sensors and devices that feed information to each other or aggregate it to a cloud where it can be stored and/or processed. Your Fitbit or Jawbone device is a “thing” on the Internet of things, as is your Nest home thermostat. Your devices send you feedback but also send your data up to a cloud where that it can be analyzed and then returned to you in the form of your weekly fitness updates or energy savings.


In the industrial subset of that broader IoT universe, the “things” are not health gadgets or home thermostats, but the aforementioned heavy manufacturing gear used in factories, field operations, mines, or farms. All of those things throw off vast amounts of data about their own performance but also what they sense in their environment.

The pitch is that GE is (or will be) first to market with cloud computing services built especially for these jobs, not consumer and general-purpose IT applications Kodesh said. GE already made its Predix operating system atop other company’s clouds and will continue to do so. The difference now is it will offer its own cloud and associated cloud services as well.

The Predix Cloud builds upon Pivotal Cloud Foundry platform for application development and deployment. GE took a $105 million stake in Pivotal, a joint venture by EMC(EMC) and VMware(VMW) , two years ago.

GE has a good test suite for such a cloud given its own scale. If you look at GE jet engines, for example, there are 100,000 flights a day, 365 days a year,s o the amount of engine data alone is a lot to handle. The beauty of getting all that streamed data in near-real-time, is that anomalies can be flagged right away, and service can be performed before there is a catastrophic failure.

Predix Cloud has several components. There is the platform-as-a-service set of software that can run atop Amazon Web Services for development and testing, but actual deployment will happen in Predix data centers and infrastructure, he said.


“This is completely different from all the consumer and IT clouds,” he noted. GE, which makes everything from jet engines to CAT scans to power generation gear, knows a lot about machinery and the data it throws off and it knows that secure connectivity to those machines and data security is paramount. “We want to make sure no one can get into that power plant,” he noted.

Three years ago when GE started talking up this industrial internet opportunity, it estimated that connecting these big machines could boost global GDP by $10 trillion to $15 trillion in 20 years. McKinsey Global Institute research holds that IoT in general could add $6.2 billion to the global economy by 2025.

Any way you slice it, these are big numbers and with that potential upside, GE won’t have this market to itself. Indeed, while it attacks this problem from its position of strength in industrial know-how, Microsoft(MSFT) , IBM(IBM) , Oracle(ORCL) and others will use their IT wherewithal to crack it.

“GE knows the machinery, the industrial side very well but Microsoft, IBM et al understand software a lot more,” said Yefim Natis, vice president and research fellow at Gartner. The real winner here will be those companies that understand both sides, he said.

It is for that reason that GE’s decision to invest $105 million in Pivotal is critical, Natis noted. That step was driven by William Ruh, GE’s vice president and global technology director, was strategic.

“Bill Ruh is a very experienced IT executive. He knew Pivotal would be worthwhile,” Natis said.

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