Q&A With C3 IoT's Tom Siebel

Six months ago, C3 Energy, the IoT platform provider that enterprise software pioneer Tom Siebel launched in 2009, broadened its focus beyond the energy market. IOT Journal spoke with him about the transition and why he thinks every system—even the human body—is becoming part of the Internet of Things.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

IOT Journal: C3's marketing materials say existing IoT enterprise applications are attempts to develop a solution from "the many independent software components that are collectively known as the open-source Apache Hadoop stack," but that this does not a platform make. So, then, how does C3 IoT's approach to platform-building differ?

Siebel: If you look at the Apache Hadoop foundation, it's a good thing. But think of it like a flea market in the cloud, where independent software developers of various levels of professionalism and experience have built pieces of software that do something interesting and uploaded them to the cloud, and [have] said anyone can use these. There are literally hundreds of these products.

And virtually every alternative to C3 IoT in the market is someone who is taking an open-source Hadoop stack and trying to cobble together 100 products into something that works. This would include Pivotal, a division of EMC, which has spent $3 billion in the last three years trying to cobble these components into something that works. GE Digital has spent $4 billion building Predix, trying to cobble together this same [type of] stack.

I don't mean to suggest there are not useful products in the Apache stack—there are. But the idea that you can cobble them together to solve IoT doesn't seem to be working. So rather than trying to cobble these things together, we spent seven years, invested a couple hundred million dollars, wrote a million lines of Java code and built a unified seamless, cohesive platform.

IOT Journal: Sensors conform to a long and growing list of communication protocols. IBM has been a big backer of long-range, low-power local area networks through its development of the LoRa protocol. Sigfox has a similar but proprietary protocol. The cellular industry is developing its own approach (Narrowband LTE). From your perspective in the software business, does having so many protocols make it more difficult to do your job?

Siebel: I don't think device development is a constraint. At the industrial level, we have the best and brightest minds in the world working on smaller, faster, cheaper sensors. So who cares who wins? I don't care—but, then, I don't really have a dog in the fight. Ten years from now, how many sensors will we have embedded in our bodies, or how many will we be wearing? Probably 10 or 12. Sensors will track pulse rate, blood glucose, the plaque in our arteries. So, this is happening and it's fun to watch.

IOT Journal: But is data translation a difficult task, if you're pulling data in from huge networks of heterogeneous sensors?

Siebel: Yes, and we've given a lot of thought to handling communication protocols from unique, disparate devices and aggregating them. We do it today, so I don't think it's a difficult problem. When there's a new communications protocol, we just need someone to publish it and let us know what it is.

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