About 6 months ago I had this "brilliant" idea that I would like to monitor the water level of my plants living on my balcony. The goal was to keep them healthy and happy (and producing vegetables for me in my urban garden). After looking for a commercial solution to aid me in this project, I discovered that there wasn't anything out there that would do what I need. The primary reason why nothing worked for me was that none of the products out there are capable of monitoring multiple plants at once, leaving me with the need to buy multiple units. At 10-15 containers for plants, this was immediately recognized as unrealistic, due to their high individual cost. Being the enterprising person I am, my immediate thought was, "I will just build one! How hard can it be?"
Six months have passed and I am starting to grasp the reality of it. It isn't hard, in the sense that I am not treading lots of new ground and making a lot of things up from scratch. It is definitely not simple either. I have a working prototype of a single instance of a soil moisture sensor, temperature and humidity sensor, and a light level sensor in a "sensor pack." Emphasis being on "prototype" and "single." It has taken me 6 months of time to buy, assemble, trial, error, and otherwise jigger around with bits and wires to get a working prototype that is extremely fragile and not at all ready for commercial use. Now to be fair, I have a full-ime job so I didn't do this all day every day; however, I did spend serious late night hours on it, and it was not a trivial time or monetary investment (still cheaper than the commercial option though). The net outcome is that at achieving phase 1 completion, I have a working prototype. I can monitor a single plant, indoors, relatively close to a power outlet, and with a bunch of wires and bits and bobs all over that wiggle loose if you look at them too hard; and that's kind of the big problem. Not all IoT projects are supposed to be indoors with "plug-in" power supplies and exposed wires; it just isn't feasible. The reality of "build it yourself" IoT is that unless you already like technology and making things, and don't mind that charming "cobbled together industrial mess" aesthetic, it is incredibly unlikely you would ever really get into it. If you do, it is like running a race where the finish line moves every time you reach it. I intend to continue on, but if you are considering your own IoT initiative you should know what you are signing up for up front!
Next Steps To realize the vision for my original ideas on this project, I need things that are well outside my comfort zone and skill level. For example, I need to build something that is waterproof, contains my sensor package and a functional computer, and is more or less untouched by the changing weather outside. At that point, breadboards and wires won't cut it if I want to actually use this system outdoors. I need to effectively build the infrastructure for my own infrastructure project. A short list of what I need to do next looks like this:
First and most simple, I need to make or find something that can be a good housing for my package of sensors that allows them to work outdoors while protecting them at the same time. It has to be waterproof, with a clear spot for the light sensor and needs some sort of grate for the temperature and humidity probe to work right. The housing should be able to fit in some sort of processor as well (I am thinking of a Pi 0 for size reasons, or Arduino for power reasons) to run the code, so I can collect and deliver sensor readings to the central hub. Then I have to have one of these per container on my balcony (right now that would be 10). So while I can one-off make all of them, Ideally I want to find something more scalable and affordable since I am thinking about the "production ready" aspects of the project. *(See footnotes)
It has to be able to run on a battery and/ (preferably) solar power - this is VERY non-trivial. Everything in an IoT devices consumes power. Everything, including the wires and connections themselves have an impact on the amount of power needed to run the device. You can do lots of things, like "sleep modes" and power saving tricks and etc..., but the Raspberry Pi (by itself, no sensors) needs 5V just to boot up. I have seen a number of "Pi on Battery" projects and a Pi on solar or two so it can be done, but again, this is a pretty big part of "consumerization" - Solar is a nice way to go since I can somewhat assume light (plants), and changing batteries is both annoying and anti-environmental so solar is a good balance.****
I will have to find a source to build custom PCB boards** (that's the green boards with the wires and connections embedded in them) so that I can solder my sensors in place to keep them from moving around. It will have to fit into the above housing, and provide all the connections I need for power, the CPU, and the sensors themselves.
I really want to find some sort of Bluetooth LE or other wireless means to connect the sensor packs into a central collection system.*** This is yet another process I have never done before and will have to learn about in order to work with the wireless transmission method I end up choosing.
In order to really be considered a success, and production ready, I will need to duplicate my sensor pack 10 times - one for each plant. To be fair I could consolidate and JUST do the soil moisture at each plant, and take temp, humidity and light levels at a central spot, but I am thinking of "consumerization" of the finished product. What if the end user has a big yard or multiple "eco systems" such as deep shade, a greenhouse or different plant types? There are too many variations, even from pot to pot on my small patio, that having the ability to do temperature and humidity alongside the soil moisture monitoring is ultimately the most useful for a consumerized product.
I will have to get a soldering iron and spend some time practicing in order to solder well. This isn't as trivial as it sounds. Soldering mistakes on my custom-made PCB board could get expensive in a hurry, and the connections have to be good or my device will fail in the field and that means my consumer has to deal with a bad device. This can be outsourced of course, and in a full commercial project can be handled in manufacturing, but that is a cost that I have no ability to bear in my DIY project scope.
Ultimately the end game for any device is that I will want to operationalize my prototype into something more consumer friendly for someone with potentially limited skill and technical know-how. The benefit to me for my little project is that the end product becomes something I don't have to babysit every day, but something I can turn on and forget until it reminds me it is there.
Potential Considering all the needs and desires for my own little "baby" IoT project, I realized I will have to perform electrical engineering, industrial and interface design, consumer focus testing, and assembly and testing.
No big deal, right?
At this point it hit me why the whole concept of the IoT is both amazing in its potential to be something incredible and something incredibly destructive. You'll notice that I footnoted a couple of points above, relating to things I genuinely don't know how to do (yet). There are resources out there for a lot of those things, maybe even all of it. The best part about our modern world is that you are very rarely the first to experiment with something. There is usually a life line out there, unless you are performing bleeding edge innovation. This is why there is so much potential in IoT. You are taking work done by others and enhancing, improving, or simply modifying it to match your need. This is the heart of the open source movement and IoT is no different. Nothing really starts at "zero" and you don't have to figure out every single detail. I didn't have to build the sensors themselves. I certainly didn't design the Raspberry Pi, or create a language to use to talk to the sensors. I am using things already discovered in a new(ish) way for my specific project. That is an amazing thing to be able to do, and more importantly it means that innovation in IoT can happen sometimes frighteningly fast.
Destruction This ability to innovate at high speed also means that there is an incredibly destructive force in IoT. We saw some of it in the Fall with the attacks from the Mirai botnet being used to take down Dyn DNS hosting and causing major Internet issues. If you attach something to the internet you create the risk that it can be used maliciously. My own IoT project is definitely not hardened; I have all default passwords on everything, because it is faster and easier when I am constantly changing code and troubleshooting if I don't have to type in a 14 character password with symbols and numbers. I recognize the risk, but I am not connecting outside my own LAN so the risk is contained. A commercial product that needs to relay information off a central server or website is just a bullseye in the ether for hackers looking for things to compromise to get at data.
As I went through this project, it was easy for me to see why defaults work their way into commercial IoT devices so easily; no one wants to have to hassle with multi-factor security or cumbersome passwords during the prototype phase when things are constantly changing. Unfortunately I know the demands to get things "out the door" all too well and in that rush is when defaults, bad code, and "it's working, ship it" intersect is when bad security happens. This is where consumer design and security clash, and IoT is one of those rare places that we are collectively going to need to get right, because the stakes are getting really high. In my case, my plants might not get watered if my rig is compromised. No big deal for me, I will hand water them again, but if it is my car, my fire and smoke alarm, my medical equipment, the controls for my elevator, or any number of other things that are connected to the Internet, we could be talking about serious or even life threatening risks.
Outlook I am generally pro IoT and innovation, and I do not want this blog to read like a contrarian piece since that's not how I feel about IoT. Instead I meant it to illustrate two things; the first one is that undeniably IoT is important, becoming more and more a part of our daily lives. With that great power comes an even greater responsibility to ensure security and safety is a part of the design, not an afterthought.
The second is that IoT is not a simple exercise in "connecting things together" and linking it to the Internet. The amount of knowledge and skills required to make a true commercial IoT device functional and successful is a legitimate challenge. The barriers to entry are high, even for someone like me that enjoys learning and discovering and has decent technical background.
Can we accelerate the ability of IoT technologies, but keep it engaging and approachable without making them so simplistic and unsafe, that we create a new army of devices that wield increasing power over our daily lives? I truly believe we can, and I hope that in a small way my own IoT project is one of many small bridges leading to plan to figuring out the how of the technology, so that others will take my work and make it that much better.
Watch out for the next part of this blog Do It Yourself IoT blog series. As we go forward I will keep updating and sharing my learnings as I move into phase 2 and try to make my vision come to life. The video for the final prototype is over on YouTube, here.
* - I toyed with "MacGuyvering" the housing out of things like outdoor electrical boxes and such, but then I also started investigating things like 3D printing options which could allow me to print a case that fits my package of sensors and connections perfectly because it is built for it. If I wanted to get really serious about it and sell them, I could invest in my own printer; for 4-500$ you can get a simple but reliable 3d printer that would do what I needed. As I was researching I also found options for "on demand" 3d printing services too. A great resource list is here: https://all3dp.com/best-online-3d-printing-service/
** - I have zero experience designing PCB boards. I have some EE friends, but I want to learn on my own for the full experience. In doing some research I found a number of places that will "print" you a PCB that you design, and a couple even have an online tool for designing the PCB itself. I am using EasyEDA (https://easyeda.com/) which has a nice library of user-submitted designs and "templates" that help a total n00b like me get started. (I could, were I so inclined, go so far as to print my own Raspberry Pi motherboard in effect and truly slim down my design, but that seems like a LOT of extra work for a "fun" project, but it could be done - just not by me!)
*** - It turns out that while making things talk over distance is pretty standard tech, miniaturizing it and making it work the way you want is not. I have started delving into the things available for this and found a few options. I have NOT played with any of them yet, but this one I found on Amazon might do the trick: https://www.amazon.com/Arduino-NRF24L01-2-4GHz-Wireless-Transceiver
I *could* assume the end consumer has a usable wifi network, but again, if we are talking about potential uses outside in a big yard or garden, their house-based wifi may not cut it. Also I want to be conscious of security so having my own send and receive function that does not rely on something external means that I don't expose anything outside of the devices themselves.
**** Something that keeps coming up for this project is that an Arduino is likely to be a much better option for running the sensors and sending the information to the central station (which could be the Raspberry Pi). The Arduino has a significantly lower power draw (A solar panel to run a single RPi for 24 hours a day would cost upwards of 150$ - not realistic for a distributed monitoring system!) and it can do the analog sensor readings natively which removes cost from the sensor package in the form of the MCP3008 chip I need to do analog conversions for the digital-only RPi. It is definitely something I will have to explore as I go into the next phase of the project. A very nice writeup on running a solar Raspberry Pi is here: http://www.voltaicsystems.com/blog/powering-a-raspberry-pi-from-solar-power/
The same site has a number of other write ups and important power consumption info for solar-based projects.
-- Check out the companion video to this blog post: On YouTube, here, along with the rest of the video series for this project. --
About Christopher Harrold As an Agent of IT Transformation, I have over 20 years experience in the field. Started off as the IT Ops guy and followed the trends of the DevOps movement wherever I went. I want to shake up accepted ways of thinking and develop new models and designs that push the boundaries of technology and of the accepted status quo. There is no greater reward for me than seeing something that was once dismissed as "impossible" become the new normal, and I have been richly rewarded throughout my career with this result. In my last role as CTO at EMC Corporation, I was working tirelessly with a small group of engineers and product managers to build a market leading, innovative platform for data analytics. Combining best of breed storage, analytics and visualization solutions that enables the Data as a Service model for enterprise and mid sized companies globally.
Recently, REAN Cloud built a digital concierge for a North Carolina hospital that had observed that most patient call button questions were repetitive. In addition, the paper-based process used to measure patient health metrics was laborious, not in real-time and sometimes error-prone. In their session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sean Finnerty, Executive Director, Practice Lead, Health Care & Life Science at REAN Cloud, and Dr. S.P.T. Krishnan, Principal Architect at REAN Cloud, discussed how they built...
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This week I had the pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at Cloud Expo New York. It was amazing to be back in the great city of New York with thousands of cloud enthusiasts eager to learn about the next step on their journey to embracing a cloud-first worldl."
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The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Microservices being modular these are faster to change and enables an evolutionary architecture where systems can change, as the business needs change. Microservices can scale elastically and by being service oriented can enable APIs natively. Microservices also reduce implementation and release cycle time and enables continuous delivery. This paper provides a logical overview of the Microservices Reference Architecture that highlights various sub systems needed to support Microservic...
It’s conference season and, as you might expect, Jason and I have been on the road covering a bunch of them. It’s always great to see what the disruptive players in the market are doing — and this year did not disappoint. But there is one thing that repeatedly happens that just gets under my skin: transformation-washing.
As Jason explained in a Forbes article over a year ago, ‘washing’ is when a vendor (or pundit) applies a buzzword loosely in an overt attempt to attach themselves to its buzz. And transformation-washing is rampant.
Some journey to cloud on a mission, others, a deadline. Change management is useful when migrating to public, private or hybrid cloud environments in either case. For most, stakeholder engagement peaks during the planning and post migration phases of a project.
Legacy engagements are fairly direct: projects follow a linear progression of activities (the “waterfall” approach) – change managers and application coders work from the same functional and technical requirements. Enablement and development mirror one another, progressing from proof-of-concept planning to final product delivery. Exce...
For DevOps teams, the concepts behind service-oriented architecture (SOA) are nothing new. A style of software design initially made popular in the 1990s, SOA was an alternative to a monolithic application; essentially a collection of coarse-grained components that communicated with each other. Communication would involve either simple data passing or two or more services coordinating some activity. SOA served as a valid approach to solving many architectural problems faced by businesses, as applications could be developed by more teams working in parallel and more productively by reusing orig...
Networks have become large, complex entities that are increasingly difficult to manage and control. Security, audit, risk and compliance professionals know that their organizations rely on them for effective risk management, control and governance processes that are essential to the safety of their network environment. Yet compliance and security are more challenging than ever before as additional layers are added to this environment.
One of the challenges lies in the fact that there is an ongoing, huge access gap in network security and compliance – and it has been residing within the enviro...
In an attempt to put the patient first in healthcare, Congress and President Obama in 2015 approved a bipartisan bill for United States healthcare reform. The bill is known as “Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015,” or MACRA. Among the major provisions of MACRA is the Quality Payment Program. Under the Quality Payment Program, physicians and nurses receive positive, neutral or negative Medicare payment adjustments based upon a “Patient Satisfaction Score,” that is, patient satisfaction scores have a direct impact on how physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and hospital’s g...
Fingerspitzengefühl: A German word used to describe the ability to maintain attention to detail in an ever-changing operational and tactical environment by maintaining real-time situational awareness. The term is synonymous with the English expression of "keeping one's finger on the pulse". The problem with fingerspitzengefühl traditionally, in addition to pronouncing it, has been it is hard for an individual to scale up. Today that is changing. In a world of sensors, AI and mobile devices, having real-time situational awareness is far easier than ever before. In fact, today the challenge i...
Many IT organizations have come to learn that leveraging cloud infrastructure is not just unavoidable, it’s one of the most effective paths for IT organizations to become more responsive to business needs.
Yet with the cloud comes new challenges, including minimizing downtime, decreasing the cost of operations, and preventing employee burnout to name a few. As companies migrate their processes and procedures to their new reality of a cloud-based infrastructure, an incident management solution can and should be adopted to help overcome these challenges. This is particularly true when larger ...
While Artificial Intelligence (AI) may not be a new concept, its contribution to automation may just change the face of business. AI's conception dates as far back as 1950, when Alan Turing proposed the Turing test in order to evaluate a machine's ability to exhibit intelligent behavior. Fast-forward a couple of decades and research led to the creation of well-known theoretical tools such as Fuzzy Logic, Bayesian Networks, Markov Models and Neural Networks. Concurrently, new types of programming languages such as Prolog, LISP and Smalltalk set the scene for most of the modern interpreted langu...
We’re seeing an emerging trend in the cloud computing world. I’ve been referring to it as cloud fatigue, but it’s more commonly known as repatriation, or moving workloads from the cloud back to on-prem locations. According to a recent 451 Research report, over 21 percent of organizations have plans to pull back from the cloud and return to an on-prem infrastructure in 2017. Considering the vast growth of cloud adoption over the last several years, what’s behind this trend?
Making informed network investment decisions about emerging technologies such as network function virtualization (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) can help evolve the network to keep pace with the innovations of the devices and people it’s connecting. As you work with business leaders to make decisions about upgrading your infrastructure with these networking developments, it’s important to understand the similarities, differences, and benefits of dual NFV and SDN implementation.
With their ability to offer a new way to design, deploy, and manage the network and its services, NFV a...
The 22nd International Cloud Expo | 1st DXWorld Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, to be held June 5-7, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, brings together Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Machine Learning and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
The high barrier to entry prevents many companies from tapping into the full potential of machine learning. But what if you could make it more accessible?
We’re in the midst of a data explosion, with today’s enterprises amassing goldmines of information (25 quintillion bytes of data every day, according to some reports). But what exactly are they doing with this data? Considering the volume of data being collected is quickly becoming unmanageable, now is a good time to shift from manual machine learning to a cognitive approach. This enables businesses to better capitalize on their data and fa...
There is a fundamental flaw in how many people think about digital transformation. First, as we’ve written about extensively at Intellyx, people tend to think about it as a finite corporate project, rather than as a process of continual transformation. There is a deeper flaw in thinking, however, that leads to this type of project mentality. Enterprise leaders commonly think of transformation as something done at a corporate level — something the organization does to itself. But that mindset creates a separation between the act of transformation at an organizational level and the transformatio...
Gaining visibility in today’s sprawling cloud infrastructure is complex and laborious, involving drilling down into tools offered by various cloud services providers. Enterprise IT organizations need smarter and effective tools at their disposal in order to address this pertinent problem. Gaining a 360 - degree view of the cloud costs requires collection and analysis of the cost data across all cloud infrastructures used inside an enterprise.
Gone are the days when application development was the daunting task of the highly skilled developers backed with strong IT skills, low code application development has democratized app development and empowered a new generation of citizen developers.
There was a time when app development was in the domain of people with complex coding and technical skills. We called these people by various names like programmers, coders, techies, and they usually worked in a world oblivious of the everyday priorities of the business world. However, with the passage of time, this scenario is much more democr...
The “Internet of Things” is an exciting area of tech, one in which industry experts estimate there will be more than 30 billion connected IoT devices by 2020. IoT is the inter-networking and instrumentation of physical devices – everything from streets, cars, factories, power grids, ice caps, satellites, and clothing to phones, microwaves, milk containers, planets, human bodies, etc.
IoT creates an opportunity to measure, collect and analyze an ever-increasing variety of behavioral statistics. That being said, data, and more importantly insight into the data, is key for enhanced business val...
Our work, both with clients and with tools, has lead us to wonder how it is that organizations are handling compliance issues in the cloud. The big cloud vendors offer compliance for their infrastructure, but the shared responsibility model requires that you take certain steps to meet compliance requirements.
Which lead us to start poking around a little more. We wanted to get a picture of what was available, and how it was being used. There is a lot of fluidity in this space, as in all things cloud. The fact that DevOps Security plays into the cloud compliance model – particularly in dynamic...
The notion of improving operational efficiency is conspicuously absent from the healthcare debate - neither Obamacare nor the newly proposed GOP plan discusses the impact that a step-function improvement in efficiency could have on access to healthcare (through more capacity), quality of healthcare services (through reduced wait times for patients) or cost (through better utilization of scarce, expensive assets).
Most of us understand that artificial intelligence (AI) offers opportunities for productivity improvements in the form of speed, automation, standardized actions and responses, plus the opportunity for continuous improvements via machine learning. These opportunities are enabled by data inputs that are analyzed and processed through AI algorithms that execute a desired decision and action. For all of the great capabilities and benefits that AI can provide, there is also a potential dark side. AI solutions can easily codify our prejudices, bias, gender stereotypes and promote injustices intenti...