Open source helps Internet of Things jump the hype hurdle at enterprises

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Businesses are feeling their way into the Internet of Things, but they’re not moving very quickly, according to new findings from a Red Hat Inc. survey that reveal a sizable gap between interest in IoT and actual deployment of projects.

The open source software provider released its newest report today, revisiting earlier IoT trends it uncovered in 2015. In the past two years, interest in IoT has grown 12 percent within the enterprise, with 55 percent of respondents tabbing IoT as important to their organizations. Yet fewer than 25 percent of respondents are actively designing, prototyping or coding an IoT project.

Could open source be the answer to successfully rolling out an IoT initiative within enterprise environments? Red Hat survey respondents think so, with an overwhelming 89 percent utilizing open source technologies for their IoT projects. Middleware was named the most important part of the software mix for IoT implementations, with 22 percent of respondents recognizing the necessity of software integration to convert IoT ideas into business-ready solutions.

This is where the power of the crowd comes into play. Where one business may be overwhelmed trying to devise a solution for a particular problem, another company may have already figured it out. Open source’s collaborative approach aids in addressing the complexities of middleware and systems integration, even when its own democratic processes could contribute to those complexities.

“Yes, there’s a gap between interest and deployment [for IoT], and that’s due to a lack of maturity in both proprietary and open source software,” explained James Kirkland, chief architect for IoT at Red Hat. “At first people tried to build an IoT platform from scratch, rebuilding everything. But those that have been most successful with IoT have picked one problem, addressed it and learned from it.”

Kirkland noted several issue for enterprises. “Security, knowledge and figuring out where the return on investment comes from in a project, are all concerns for enterprise IoT adoption,” he said. “From that you learn, grow and do one or two more projects, and build a more overarching solution from there. These are finite projects the enterprise can solve and learn from.”

The interest in open source technology isn’t surprising for IoT, a market still in its early years. Open source has demonstrated time and again the business perks of collaborative innovation, with each generation of open source technology leading to new potential products. As IoT transitions from a hype phase to a revenue-generating phase, open source is a comfortable go-to for cautious business people.

“For the most part, enterprises are using open source for their needs,” said Peter Burris, chief research officer at Wikibon, owned by the same company as SiliconANGLE Media. Burris, who has written an extensive report on IoT’s potential within the emerging digital economy, sees recent open source developments as an opportunity for businesses to circumvent costly hardware that’s suited only to specific needs.

“The likelihood is we’ll see a trend to replace specialized hardware with low-cost, general purpose hardware and specialized software,” he said. “What many in the enterprise hope is the promise of low cost hardware.”

Open source can boost IoT deployments in that sense, making hardware more adaptable through software that can be accessed and customized rapidly in the cloud. With open source technologies, the enterprise can experiment with and even fail at IoT services faster, more cheaply and more often, avoiding the restrictive nature of proprietary software.

The fortunate byproduct of open source experimentation is the discovery of new business opportunities within the IoT market, as such projects establish use cases that can scale to revenue-generating services. Fifty-eight percent of Red Hat’s survey respondents indicated new business opportunities as the primary benefit to IoT, while 50 percent look to improve operations with IoT deployments.

“What we’re finding is that a company builds out its backend and invests in an IoT solution, and they stumble across a business model they can sell to others,” said Lis Strenger, a senior product marketing manager for IoT at Red Hat. “One example is for a transportation company that ended up selling their model as a platform solution. This other business that’s emerging is from insight data collected from the physical world. They’re realizing they can share that data out to other companies, and add another layer of value to their offerings.”

Red Hat’s findings are in line with other industry reports, with new data from 451 Research LLC revealing that 71 percent of the nearly 1,000 companies surveyed are gathering data for IoT initiatives. That’s a 3 percent increase from the previous quarter. Another report from the International Data Corp. puts global IoT spending at $1.29 trillion by 2020, with the majority of that spending going towards software upgrades to existing physical components and hardware, incorporating wireless data transmission through modules and sensors.

Several computing giants are indeed rolling out enterprise-ready solutions borne from open-source IoT projects, with Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. launching SecureData, a Swiss Army knife for enterprise security looking to transmit data into Apache Hadoop. General Electric Corp. is another instance of open-source spinning out fresh business opportunities, with the Cloud Foundry-based General Electric Co. Predix presenting a platform-as-a-service solution to digitally recreate physical machines for analysis and model-based projections.

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