Will the Cloud Become the Internet of Things' Operating System and Bus Paradigm?

We must look for and use patterns all the time.
By Ed Featherston
Feb 25, 2015

We learn from the past by studying patterns. What works? What doesn't work? This can be applied to social media, mobile technology, data analytics, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. Technology is changing and moving at breakneck speeds, and recognizing patterns can be very helpful in adapting to and adopting new technologies. I've been thinking about applying pattern recognition to some of the challenges we are seeing with the IoT. Are there emerging or existing patterns that could be useful? Perhaps. Let's take a look at a brief history of the personal computer (PC), as well as the evolution and subsequent challenges of connecting peripherals or accessories; some of the patterns may be applicable and useful. Disclaimer: Much of this discussion has a definite bias toward Windows-based PCs rather than Macs. Still, the concepts transcend.

In the Beginning: Serial and Parallel Ports
In the early days of PCs, the primary mechanism for connecting peripheral devices was through either a serial or parallel port interface on a computer. This was at a time when the primary accessories were dial-up modems and users were limited in the number of devices that could be connected, based on how many of these ports were built into a particular PC. Functionality on such devices was minimal, yet these ports were the bus for transporting messages to the device and the operating system (OS). Many times, applications used generic drivers for the port, meaning they needed to know specifically how to communicate with the device through messages over the generic port drivers.

This pattern of providing applications with specific knowledge about particular devices can be seen today in many IoT devices currently on the market. It is a useful pattern, but limits the devices' growth and usage. In a recent article published by Forbes, writer Doug Newcomb said that during the past year, more than a dozen smart home platforms have been introduced, "guaranteeing another year of automation and security gadgets in your house that don't talk to each other."

Expansion Buses: ISA Begat EISA
Expansion buses are the primary mechanism for connecting devices, peripherals or accessories to computer systems. They serve as the standard way for an OS and devices to communicate with each other. In the PC world, the great-grandfather of them all was the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA)—a rather grandiose term at the time—bus. The ISA bus allowed for a surplus of devices to be connected to a PC. It also allowed for bus mastering, which enabled controllers on the bus to communicate directly with other controllers without having to go through the processor or the OS. Speed and addressing limitations led to further bus evolution, including the Extended Industry Standard Architecture (EISA). One interesting aspect of the EISA was how it was implemented to allow backward compatibility to ISA cards. The EISA utilized the same form factor as the ISA, except it allowed for more connection points. The shorter ISA cards would use the existing ISA connectors, while EISA cards would have additional connectors on the longer tabs.

The bus pattern and mechanism allowed for much greater growth and usage of devices with PCs. By maintaining a level of backward compatibility, vendors provided users with the ability to upgrade their environments and ecosystems (their PCs), while maintaining the use of devices in which they had already invested. The bus provides the standard method of communicating and sharing messages, while the OS provides a standard way for applications to access the devices without needing to understand the intricacies of the messaging and hardware.

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