The New Smart-Embedded Economy
May/June 2011

What would you think about the idea of managed-services and service-level agreements happening on embedded devices with zero touch support? In other words, all of this would happen automatically.

Further to that point, how about device management where the latest firmware and operating system version is always available and applied to the device, or a scenario where maintenance is handled with no human interaction at either the point of use or in the control center for the service?

All of this would be made possible through a concept known as autonomous manageability. And, autonomous manageability is a part of what Intel’s Kevin Johnson calls the “new smart-embedded economy.” Johnson is Intel’s director of embedded connected devices, embedded and communications group. Given the mass amount of intelligent devices forthcoming, the only way to ensure liability and operational costs aren’t too high and profitable operations can indeed occur is through autonomous manageability becoming a reality.

But perhaps we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves. Autonomous manageability is still a full step away from where we are today when it comes to M2M and connected devices. This idea of autonomous manageability is a direct result of the development of open platforms across the M2M value chain, a concept we are merely at the beginning stages of deploying.

The idea of open platforms was introduced in the March/April issue of Connected World magazine, where Intel and its partners addressed the value proposition of this concept in the form of helping drive technology changes faster while not limiting users’ ability in the process. This ideal creates greater flexibility and ample opportunities end-to-end across different vertical markets.

This ability to scale to market requires companies to look at the various technical foundations in a different way than normal. For starters, Johnson says devices need to be network ready. “In today’s market as an innovator you need to do a lot of fiddling with modem; the modem and application; the modem, application, and provisioning; (the) modem, application, and security, etc., to even begin to make it worthy of having your brand put on it,” says Johnson. “There is a real need to simplify and de-mystify the next generation of connected devices.”

“So we are looking at creating an easier way for devices to be network ready; we call it service-ready platforms. This includes network management and control being passed through to the device and the application area of the device. What this allows is innovators to have network services built into their application. Provisioning services, billability services, device-management services, security services, update services—a lot of that is proprietary today. So we are working with different standards bodies and our own architectural group to make network readiness viable and real in the coming year.”

Intel and its partners have started down this path already, launching varying proof-of-concepts to the market, all around the central theme of “open, standardized” M2M solutions. Forget everything you know about developing solutions tailored for vertical markets. The idea of open platforms in the new embedded economy instead takes a broader approach.

In many ways this concept begins at the point of connectivity. Collaborating with network and connectivity services provider Vodafone, Intel hopes to make the process of embedding M2M capabilities into a broad range of products simpler and more cost efficient. As part of this collaboration the companies will introduce an M2M Smart Services Developer Kit. Through the use of the Intel Atom processor, the developer kit will allow businesses to bring services and applications to market that leverage standardized M2M capabilities.

Marc Sauter, Vodafone’s M2M partner manager, describes the kit as a preconfigured combination of Intel’s Atom processor-based hardware and Vodafone’s M2M Connectivity Solution to enable customers and developers to instantaneously connect their devices to the Internet. He says, “Developers can develop new M2M applications and services in a few weeks rather than months. They can then use the Starter Kit for initial trials and pilot projects. For mass rollouts the customers have access to Intel’s and Vodafone’s worldwide set of partners to get the most competitive solution.”

Combining Intel’s computing platforms, based around the Intel Core and Intel Atom processor, with Vodafone’s M2M connectivity-management solution (global M2M SIM, M2M Connectivity Platform) should provide off-the-shelf solutions for developers, allowing them to focus on the application and service development knowing the M2M hardware and connectivity solution is already in place. “Vodafone M2M solutions have well-established mechanisms to manage connectivity and connect devices,” adds Sauter. “The collaboration with Intel ensures that these mechanisms can be extended to provision and manage devices to the application level.”

Such collaboration is aimed at making it simpler and more affordable to develop intelligent devices that are connected to the Internet. It is a concept that many in the market are aiming to achieve, yet with much different results.

“There is already a lot of innovation happening in the M2M market driven by smaller start-ups but also by large global players such as Intel and Vodafone,” says Sauter. “However, the fragmentation and complexity of the M2M market are still limiting factors slowing down the rapid adoption of M2M. In order to tap into the huge market potential of M2M and enable the M2M mass market with billions of connected devices, open platforms with standardized interfaces need to be developed.”

Sauter characterizes the collaboration between the two companies as a step toward the vision of having standardized building blocks for M2M developers.

This type of innovation is even occurring at the M2M platform design level. With an eye on providing an alternative to proprietary platforms, Intel and Ericsson have introduced the Intel M2M Reference Design, which supports standards-based technologies. With the reference design, developers no longer need to design a board from scratch, nor do they need to be experts in wireless technology in order to create M2M applications. The technologies provided by both companies allow sufficient computing and connectivity, essentially future-proofing the platform to provide extensible and open capabilities.

Companies are already embracing such an idea. Take, for example, Sweden-based Yanzi Networks, which at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this past February, demonstrated real customer stories of a grocery store and a cattle farm in Sweden streaming video and sensor data over the 3G/4G network. Such case studies demonstrate the power of leveraging the Intel Atom processor in combination with Ericsson’s F5521gw mobile broadband modules.

Yanzi has developed a scalable server platform that interconnects and manages different devices automatically. When detailing the announcement, Yanzi’s CEO and founder Lars Ramfelt said, “With the Intel Atom processor, Yanzi has the foundation for secure, high-performance, low-power, cost-efficient video processing required in next-generation M2M applications. The combination of the Yanzi solution running on this processor and the high-speed mobile broadband module from Ericsson creates a foundation for carriers to provide new service offerings.”

Telenor Objects has introduced a managed service called Shepherd, which simplifies the deployment and operation of new M2M services based on a device library and generic service enablers. The openness of the architecture allows customers to choose the most suitable devices and applications when building their solution. The service allows data to be captured, delivered, and processe

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