Behind the sensor web lies a cloud

For the most part people are now connected, with 5.3 billion people having a mobile phone as of the end of 2010. That number should continue to rise, but most operators are focusing on the next lofty goal — connecting machines. Call it machine to machine, the Internet of Things, or a web that talks back, but once we start connecting devices and sensors, we’re adding complexity to a system that’s already highly complex.
There are companies trying to build better sensors, and those trying to make new ways of programming such sensor networks, but Axeda is trying to create the intelligence in the cloud to monitor and manage the sensors in real time. Axeda, a Foxboro, Mass.-based company that’s been around since 2000 and which has raised $16 million from JMI Equity and MMV Financial, has built a software platform for sensor networks.
Today, the platform handles more transactions per day than Twitter handles tweets, according to Joseph Biron, a senior director, product innovation at Axeda. When pressed, he said it was about 10,000 per second, although he expects that number to quadruple in the next year as more and more devices are connected. In March, Twitter said it saw almost 7,000 tweets per second at its highest point so far.
To handle this, Brion says Axeda has built its own NoSQL data store that he doesn’t want to disclose too much about. But he did say the Axeda engineering team follows Twitter, Facebook and other webscale businesses carefully to understand how they are handling their large amounts of data. With Ericsson predicting there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, he’s pretty sure the Axeda cloud will end up processing far more transactions that some of these household names.
And this assumes that not every sensor will be connected to a monitoring cloud. “Think about a building” Brion said. “There will be sensors on the fire panels and doors and windows. That’s thousands of them and they will likely connect and centralize through a gateway.” However, that’s still a lot of data coming in from one building, so Axeda hopes it is building a system that will be able to scale exponentially with the number of new devices added to its service as opposed to linearly.
He explains that in addition to monitoring, a dashboard, and the ability to send out updates or actions to the sensors, the Axeda software service will soon add more automated reactions. So, for example, if a building’s sensors determine the building is too hot, the information from myriad sources can be analyzed in the Axeda cloud and then the Axeda software can tell the building’s air conditioner to lower the temperature.
That can happen today, but the cloud component becomes more compelling when you bring in a third-party such as a utility, that can send the Axeda cloud a signal asking for power conservation, which can then push out that information to the building so it lowers the temperature in response. Because most sensor networks run on proprietary software, as opposed to something standardized or open source, Axeda has created an overlay in its service to translate the proprietary signals from devices manufactured by Honeywell, Emerson, Johnson Controls or others, into something that different systems can understand.
We’re not there yet, but this is the future that Axeda has decided to bank on. That’s why it has moved from tracking wireless assets to creating a cloud-based platform for managing all connected network devices. In addition to energy management, Brion thinks connected advertising, coordinated traffic management and other areas will be improved by a sensor network that’s controlled in the clouds.