Telemetry made reliable

Telemetry is a concept that has been around for quite some time. Literally meaning “remote measurement,” we have traditionally associated it with hospitals, where entire units have been named for it. However, it is beginning to seep out into the rest of the world aggressively as the “Internet of Things” has evolved.

The opportunities for telemetry have increased dramatically, even in just the last few years. With seemingly everything being instrumented with a “brain” (there are more transistors being produced per year than grains of rice), and many of those things being connected into the Internet, organizations and individuals have a whole new set of ways to expand their senses out to where the action is really taking place. I see this trend happening in almost all industries. Healthcare has expanded beyond the hospital to remote monitoring that allows people to remain monitored while living their normal lives. Manufacturing tracks location and temperature and other physical environment variables for nearly everything. Energy and utility companies track the state of their remote equipment and remotely track and govern consumption at the meter. Governments track traffic patterns, natural resource health, and emergency response. Oil and gas companies track a variety of geological conditions to optimize their exploration yield. There are countless examples of telemetry in action these days.

One of the things that many organizations struggle with when trying to implement telemetry is how they can maintain reliable bi-directional communication between remote devices and a central control point. The communication needs to be very terse and lightweight since communication channels are often limited, and whatever sits on the remote devices needs to be small and efficient enough to not require expensive parts like powerful batteries and large amounts of storage.

To help address this problem, IBM (over ten years ago) introduced the MQTT specification for machine to machine messaging. It was profiled as one of the top 100 inventions from IBM as part of their Centennial celebration. And just last week, IBM donated open source Java and C clients for MQTT to the Eclipse Paho project. This is an exciting development, and one that will hopefully open up the landscape of applications that offer telemetry capabilities. James Governor agrees and provides a great summary of the importance of this announcement.

So what does this mean? Well hopefully it means that we can expect some level of protocol standardization and interoperability in the world of telemetry. Without standardization, organizations get locked into vendor-specific protocols, which severely limit the growth possibilities for these types of applications. For IBM, it represents the exactly the kind of grassroots developer outreach that is needed to remain relevant in the new worlds of social networking and the Internet of Things.

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