Meet Zetta, an internet of things platform from the API wizards at Apigee

“What is the diameter of the internet of things and how do we make it smaller?”

That’s the question that Brian Mulloy, a VP of Apigee (pictured above), focused on for the last few years as he tried to figure out what he needed to do to build a product that would help Apigee’s clients and others develop for the internet of things. I’m not sure that’s the right question, but the solution [company]Apigee[/company] is proposing at its “I Love APIs” user conference Tuesday speaks to its vision of what’s happening as we connect our physical devices to the web.

Unlike the vision proposed today by a group of IBM researchers, Apigee’s idea is dependent on the cloud, where the APIs Apigee manages live. Zetta, as the platform is called, takes the idea that the internet of things is about using APIs to take advantage of all the data that connected devices can collect and then letting developers build services on top of them. It’s an app-centric model with intelligence in the cloud as opposed to a device-centric model with intelligence on the hardware and at the edge.

Apigee's Zetta platform at work. Image courtesy of Apigee.

Apigee’s Zetta platform at work. Image courtesy of Apigee.

Mulloy describes the architecture as one that allows for a hub and spoke physical network topology, while abstracting that to look like a flat graph-like topology in the cloud. So in the real world we have a hub and spokes be they wearables all talking to a smartphone or a bunch of lightbulbs talking to a bridge. In the cloud, however, that model creates a mess for developers, so then each object becomes a node and the APIs govern what can talk to what and how.

This model offers some strengths in that the hub-and-spoke model is clearly dominant today, and using APIs allows people to use third-party authentication between their devices in a way that makes it easy to hook my [company]TCP lights[/company] into my [company]Wink[/company] hub with just a password entered via the app. That helps handle issues of interoperability between different devices and allows services like [company]If This Then That[/company] to flourish and expand what we think we can do with the internet of things.

However, hooking everything into the cloud creates operation costs and complexities for the hardware vendor and the consumer. Operating a cloud backend costs money, which may mean that customers are charged a service fee over time. Also, while a developer might see a flat multi-node network to talk to in the cloud, a consumer can experience some confusion with the physical devices if they hook up too many of them in too many places. A great example of this is my [company]Philips[/company] Hue lights. I have hooked those up to a half-dozen apps and managing and troubleshooting those connections can be a bit of a pain.

Apigee has plenty of big name customers who are working on internet of things products and services, so it’s clear that there’s considerable input from big names into its model. As with everything being proposed right now, I’m guessing we’ll just have to wait and see how it all shakes out.