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Have IBM and ARM made an idiot-proof industrial internet pairing?

September 3, 2015, 8:46 PM UTC
The logo of IBM is seen at their booth p
The logo of IBM is seen at their booth prior to the opening of the CeBIT IT fair on March 5, 2012 in Hanover, central Germany.
Photograph by Odd Andersen — AFP/Getty Images

IBM is going all in with its Internet of things marketing effort. Thursday it announced a deepened relationship with ARM, a licensing firm whose chip designs are the brains of many connected devices, additional services for its IoT Foundations cloud product, and a new service that it designed for companies making connected electronics. Big Blue isn’t alone in making a big deal of its offerings in the Internet of things, but it does have credibility that many of its smaller rivals lack. There’s a reason people say no one ever got fired for buying IBM (IBM).

The biggest fuss today is around the partnership IBM has with ARM(ARMH), which allows developers who are building products that use ARM’s mbed operating system to link their devices to IBM’s specially designed cloud for the Internet of things, with very little effort. ARM’s new OS isn’t actually publicly available, although developers can get beta versions of the operating system, but it’s designed to run on small microcontrollers that are used in sensors and embedded devices such as appliances or even activity trackers.

ARM developed mbed because nearly every microcontroller vendor has their own operating system, which made for a fragmented market and a complicated development environment. Imagine trying to build an app ecosystem if every single phone had a different operating system instead of running iOS or Android. That’s currently the case in the Internet of things. ARM hopes to change that with mbed, which is aimed at companies that want to build connected products but don’t want to have to worry about a proprietary operating system.

With IoT Foundation, IBM is focused on a similar problem. There are plenty of clouds that want to store your connected data, but IBM is making the case that it has everything developers need in one reputable cloud. IoT Foundations has the IBM brand, new capabilities announced Thursday to handle data analytics (it uses a variation of the Spark real-time data processing standard) and device management capabilities. The link with ARM should help the engineers at a big name company or startup so they don’t have to worry about the mechanics of connecting their device to the Internet and offloading the data. Instead, they can just make it happen with a few clicks on a cloud dashboard.

IBM will undoubtedly disagree, but the vision it and ARM is offering isn’t really designed for an industrial IoT situation where a company needs to connect an advanced manufacturing operation. This isn’t a complete offering for a company that needs to prioritize real-time data flows to a gateway device that may make decisions on the ground and send some of the data back to the cloud for later processing. Chris O’Connor, a general manager at IBM, says that the IBM platform could handle such a use case, but there are certainly some pieces missing from the announcement that was made today, if a company wants it to be as easy as snapping an ARM microcontroller on a board and adding a few lines of code to integrate it back to IBM’s cloud.

But what this will do is offer a wide assortment of interested companies a way to start small with a connected product and get it connected and reporting data. If it is a success ,it can grow seamlessly, all backed by a reputable brand that seems hell bent on making this easy for people who just want to get their data from a device and onto a server to be analyzed.

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