Machine-to-Machine: Different from IoT?

M2M is a Player; the Internet of Things is the Team

Machine-to-machine systems were a start. Different dedicated devices cooperating for an application could share data and interact for a common purpose. Now with the emergence of the Internet of Things, such collaboration has become easier and the access to data and analysis has grown much richer.


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When the IoT first became a buzzword, there was much talk of it being machine-to-machine (M2M) 2.0. But there is an enormous expansion of application scope and anticipated benefits when moving from M2M to the IoT. While it can be argued that the IoT is simply the next evolution of M2M, does it make sense to attribute the promised business benefits of big data and its manipulation to a term as limited as machine-to-machine? M2M is simply that: the transference of data from one machine to another. And while there was always an implied usage benefit, the original definition of M2M limits the term to a subset of the Internet of Things.

The origin of the term M2M is in telecommunications. M2M is network focused; traditional M2M solutions typically rely on point-to-point communication using embedded hardware modules and either cellular, satellite or wired, public networks. With M2M deployments, the main focus is on the quantity of devices one connects to the (money generating) network, with the M2M ecosystem built around that network. And while M2M has evolved over the years to include the IP-based network communication more commonly used to interface device data to a Cloud or middleware platform, it is really just the communication enabler in the IoT concept.

What the IoT can provide, with M2M as a key enabler, is big data. Big data can offer detailed demographics and interaction patterns for better marketing, individual buying behaviors for improved sales, network usage patterns of bandwidth and storage for optimized information technology (IT) planning, inventory and maintenance requirements for more efficient logistics, and patterns of revenue fluctuations for more accurate financial projections. Big data can also reveal how all of these issues affect the overall company for better operations.

M2M & Cloud Computing

Connecting to remote devices to extract collected data can be done in different ways, but all require hardware, firmware, and software components. A good place to start is with a dedicated board management controller (BMC). Initially designed for power sequencing tasks, the BMC has evolved to include many new and useful features for board management and control. Measuring the supply current to get a snapshot of the system’s power consumption is only one example of these new capabilities. And compatibility with the latest embedded application programming interface specification (EAPI) reduces design efforts to port existing calls to the BMC.

Providing the interface from the hardware to the operating system is one of the most important functions of the device’s remote management system. The BMC first collects all relevant information from the chipset and other sources. Utilizing the System Management Bus, the application layer fetches the data and presents it to the user, displayed either in the BIOS menu or a user-friendly dashboard suitable for supervision and troubleshooting.

Cloud connectivity takes today’s intelligent middleware a step further than previous generations of remote management technology. By employing a Cloud server architecture and an M2M stack on top of the intelligent middleware, embedded devices can connect to the Cloud without additional design requirements (Figure 1). For example, the M2M stack pushes system data to the user’s Cloud server via any kind of TCP/IP connection. System managers have easy access to data and analytics through any commercial Cloud portal, using any device (e.g., PC, tablet, smart phone). 

Figure 1
By employing full connectivity, from edge to Cloud to end application, SEMA-enabled embedded devices can connect to the Cloud without additional design requirements. Being a holistic solution, Adlink’s Smart Embedded Management Agent (SEMA) Cloud offers users the entire infrastructure required. Customers do not need to develop their own Cloud solution, avoiding laborious checking of hardware compatibility, finding a suitable Cloud server, implementing data encryption or developing proprietary communication protocols.

When systems are available, operators can observe their performance. Cloud-based remote management furthers that process by enabling observation anytime, anywhere. Embedded management agents may be used to continuously upload data through an encrypted Transport Layer Security (TLS, the successor protocol of Secure Sockets Layer or SSL) connection.

Data to the Cloud enables operators to verify, monitor and manage system performance from a single, central location – providing immediate improvements to reliability and reduction in management costs. But the larger promise is realized when this big data is integrated into back-end business systems, such as enterprise resource management (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM).

Machine-to-X Communication

With the IoT, communication has broadened from M2M to become machine-to-human or machine-to-Cloud. A critical challenge to deploying industrial IoT solutions is the lack of a single standard of network connection. For example, brownfield devices use a scattered variety of proprietary protocols; using an IoT gateway that supports cross-communication protocols and can connect with IP-based networks can greatly simplify an IoT deployment.

The ideal gateway platform integrates routing and data collection functions, conversant with existing protocols. Strong support for widely-used fieldbus protocols provides bi-directional communication and acquisition (Figure 2). Simple IoT gateways are capable of accepting a wide range of connectivity protocols for analog and digital data and can provide communication for a wide array of industries, taking advantage of the valuable data existing in their hardware assets.

Figure 2
Adlink’s embedded IoT gateway platforms feature fieldbus control interface, as well as superior WiFi/LTE/3G enabled edge device/Cloud connectivity. Secure, scalable computing gateways with fieldbus interfaces enable seamless connection, aggregation, filtering, and data transmission to the Cloud with confidence. Looking beyond the gateway, Adlink’s SEMA Cloud includes a secure Cloud server architecture and machine-to-machine (M2M) stack on top of its intelligent middleware. This built-in service means the Adlink IoT gateways can connect to a commercial Cloud without additional design requirements.

Intel has invested much time and effort in an Intel IoT Gateway platform that addresses the need for incorporating both legacy devices and newer, more open systems into IoT deployments. The Intel IoT Gateway platform integrates an Intel processor-based third-party hardware with an Intel software stack. This software platform bundles together the Wind River Intelligent Device Platform (IDP) XT and McAfee Embedded Control to provide a complete, pre-validated communications and security solution.

Wind River IDP XT provides a software stack for communicating with local equipment and the Cloud. Its extensive connectivity choices include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and short-range wireless protocols widely used in smart buildings. Wind River IDP XT supports the MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocol for data transportation, and remote management protocols such as Technical Report 069 (TR-069), CPE WAN Management Protocol (CWMP) and Open Mobile Alliance Device Management (OMA DM). For developers, the Wind River IDP XT software stack provides Lua, Java, and OSGi application environments to enable rapid, reusable application development.

Wind River IDP XT delivers built-in security features as well—such as a hardware root of trust—to secure the communication channel, the data, and the end device. In addition, McAfee Embedded Control adds dynamic whitelisting. This technology locks the system down to a known good baseline so no program outside the authorized set can launch. McAfee Embedded Control also contributes a policy-based change control feature that monitors files and prevents unexpected changes.

Benefitting from M2M & the IoT

Embedded platforms are in transformation, evolving from standalone compute systems to becoming part of the Internet of Things (IoT). More than just Internet-enabled, these intelligent systems are networked and communicating, gathering and sharing information that enables insight and solves problems. Improving healthcare, enabling intelligent transportation systems, and modernizing manufacturing, intelligent IoT applications are delivering benefits to a wide range of industries, empowering business transformation all over the world.

While the concept of sharing and analyzing business information is not new, the IoT leapfrogs piecemeal, proprietary M2M data transfer applications by enabling greater access and more in-depth analytics and action with standards-based, third-party vendor solutions. Software, hardware and end-user applications work together in real-time to expand network access, functionality and intelligent performance. Now capitalizing on the business value of real-time data analytics is no longer limited to enterprises with the resources to develop their own proprietary systems, but instead is open to both consumers and industries alike.

ADLINK Technology
San Jose, CA
(408) 360-0200