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While the sun baked Las Vegas streets to 105 degrees Fahrenheit during last week's VMworld, VMware honed its internet of things partnerships and touted a strategy of being the data center tier for directing billions of smart endpoints.
Just as VMware tries to position itself as the premier provider of monitoring and management tools in the cloud ecosystem with its Cloud Foundation offering, the company is also positioning itself as the management layer for data center integration with a growing legion of internet of things (IoT) product providers.
With its ecosystem of leading IoT partners, VMware is trying to bridge the gap between the operational technology (OT) and IT worlds and extend data center expertise out to IoT endpoints. VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger highlighted this potential in his keynote address, citing IDC data on the coming IoT opportunity as a $357 billion market in the U.S. and nearly $1.3 trillion internationally by 2019.
"VMware sees considerable potential in the IoT space, and it was important for us to align with partners that would both complement and enhance our proven enterprise device management offerings as we extend our technology to manage, monitor and secure IoT use cases from edge to cloud," said Bask Iyer, CIO and general manager for IoT at VMware. "Rapid application enablement and analytics are important components of the new connected offerings that we will extend to our customers."
VMware recently developed a software developer's kit (SDK) for building mid-tier IoT gateways called Liota, short for Little IoT Agent. This allows developers to rapidly code and deploy gateways between physical IoT devices in the field and IT applications.
The next step in VMware's IoT strategy
Liota is currently an open source SDK that helps build standardized and secure gateways for data orchestration. Although it is not a complete product, it helps VMware IoT partners build interoperable gateways. Liota can be downloaded from GitHub and requires Python to run.
VMware intends to continue to develop its IoT-related vendor alliances in order to help customers address IoT use cases across many sectors. According to Iyer, VMware has partnered with Bayshore, Dell, Deloitte Digital, GE Digital, Intwine Connect, ThingWorx and V5 Systems, among others.
Greg Bollella, CTO for IoT at VMware, told TechTarget that VMware's entry into the IoT sphere dates back to 2014, and that the Liota gateway SDK was developed after a few pivots with IoT partners. Bollella also noted that many IoT gateways tend to be general purpose systems that need management.
According to Bollella, beta applications from VMware's IoT partners will likely come out over the next three to six months, although the timing is still speculative.
"This is a decoupling point between IT and OT," Bollella said. "Our side of the gateway needs to evolve at internet speed and then OT side also has to evolve. … There will be future support for the IEEE 1451 standards for sensors and transducers."
Bridging the gap
With Liota, VMware hopes to bridge the gap between measurement content and infrastructure data, both of which need a different stream of IoT data. This divide is best handled through network segmentation, which can also secure access to IoT data through different internal groups and external partners. VMware intends to "bring in the full power of NSX to microsegment data flows from the edge into data center networks to protect it and prevent potential competitors accessing the wrong streams," Bollella said.
VMware is also researching ways to improve IoT security and performance, starting with replacing certificate authorities with a blockchain ID option that performs redundant confirmation at a cheaper price, adding security with little overhead.
One issue VMware has come across is that representational state transfer (REST) has long been the default in IoT situations. Bollella mentioned that efforts have been made to prevent resending metadata for sensors and transducers, as this often takes hundreds, even thousands, of times more data than the measurements themselves. For example, a temperature sensor could have environmental and error information at 20 to 30 kilobytes, but only send 8 to 80 bytes as actual data. VMware has been working on sending this metadata just once at the time of initial device registration to reduce bandwidth by up to 100 times.
VMware's IoT partnerships
Dell and VMware have been close IoT partners for some time now, and it looks as though this relationship will only strengthen now that Dell has purchased EMC.
Jason Shepherd, director of strategy and partnerships for IoT at Dell, said many of his partners are realizing they can't do all aspects of IoT and are starting to find their niches.
"Dell is here to be the infrastructure provider of choice," Shepherd said. "Not the sensors, but embedded PCs or gateways for industrial environments, up to our growing back-end portfolio, that is our role."
Shepherd added that VMware's IoT strategy includes an IoT Control Center, which incorporates elements of AirWatch.
In another partnering effort, VMware and PTC announced at VMworld that VMware has joined the ThingWorx Ready program and will position the ThingWorx IoT platform as part of its IoT strategy.
By joining Liota's IoT edge software and device management capabilities with ThingWorx's rapid application platform, VMware intends to enable IoT offering developers to accelerate development and achieve a faster time to market.
Several IoT edge applications were demonstrated at the IoT Experience Pavilion, located in the VMware Village. These demos included control of an industrial robot, a smart cities application and also a Coca-Cola kiosk that monitored the use of custom flavorings.
VMware is also offering an Early Adopter program for qualifying companies. This involves a three-month proof-of-concept completion and the option to be a beta tester for future VMware IoT products.
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