Neither the buzzword nor the concept of the "Internet of things" is new. Since the Internet emerged back in the 1990s (and before), we found it interesting to connect Coke machines and coffee pots, among other items. In fact, some of my first work with the Internet was around connecting data-collection devices to remote databases.
These days, everything comes with some kind of network connection option. This includes our thermostats, TVs, refrigerators, and even coffee makers. The real progress is being made in the area of industrial equipment, such as those sold by GE and other manufacturers that have pushed this concept in the last few years.
[ What the "Internet of things" really means. | From Amazon Web Services to Windows Azure, see how the elite 8 public clouds compare in the InfoWorld Test Center's review. | Stay up on the cloud with InfoWorld's Cloud Computing Report newsletter. ]
The idea is to go beyond simple monitoring of these, well, things, to advanced analytical services that let devices provide critical information about how they are functioning and what they are doing. That, in turn, lets automated corrective action take place based on remote analysis of this data. An example: An industrial robot could spin out data to a remote analytical application, which can determine likely failure patterns for the machine and eventually lead to the robot automatically changing its function.
Of course, what happens at the back end of the connected devices usually takes place in a remote system, typically public cloud-based systems. The more "things" that connect, the greater the use of public cloud services. The cloud and the things are tightly coupled in the Internet of things.
I suspect that special-purpose clouds will emerge to focus specifically on connecting devices and machines. They'll gather data quickly, likely streaming off devices with very little structure, as well as performing quick analysis of the data with the ability to instantly respond to the device.
This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of cloud computing. Our ability to connect pretty much anything lets us operate devices that have much more intelligence than machines from just a few years ago. These devices operate more effectively and can even self-repair. You'll thank the use of the cloud for that.
This article, "The cloud is the secret weapon in the Internet of things," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.