GE launches an IoT-focused cloud. Buzzword bingo, or smart move?

Internet of Things conceptual image
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The Internet of Things is the buzzword du jour. So is GE's launch of an IoT-focused cloud a smart move, or a cynical case of chasing trends?

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Ask your average Joe or Jill what they know about GE, and it's a safe bet that software isn't their first pick. They'll likely tell you that GE makes industrial machinery — things like wind turbines and airplane jet engines. Well, that is kind of true, but increasingly GE sees itself as being about software. Even its corporate tagline has been changed to reflect the company's new reality — GE now wants to be known as the company that brings together the physical and digital worlds "in ways no other company can." In its labs and factories and on the ground with customers, GE is planning on inventing the next industrial era to move, power, build and cure the world.

What this means in actual terms is that GE is spending serious amounts of cash on technology, and building products that are technology-based at their core. GE started off by telling the world just how much valuable information could be gleaned from the petabytes of data one of its jet engines gathered on a transatlantic trip. The plan was to sell that data back to airlines by way of increased efficiencies and the like.

But GE has moved beyond simply improving its existing products via software and now has software products on its price book. It's no longer just about augmenting existing products with software; rather, GE is morphing into becoming a direct software company. That takes another step today with the announcement of GE's Predix Cloud, an industrial cloud offering that GE says is the "only cloud offering designed specifically for industrial data and analytics across industries like aviation, healthcare, oil & gas, and transportation." Make no bones about it, GE is taking this launch seriously, even rolling out CEO Jeff Immelt to provide a soundbite:

“Cloud computing has enabled incredible innovation across the consumer world. With Predix Cloud, GE is setting the pace of digital innovation across industry,” said Immelt. “A more digital hospital means better, faster healthcare. A more digital manufacturing plant means more products are made faster. A more digital oil company means better asset management and more productivity at every well. GE is a digital industrial company, which means machines, people and software connected by the cloud.”

So what makes Predix any different from the other clouds out there (and, bear in mind, that the other cloud vendors aren't shy to espouse the value that they bring to the IoT)? According to GE, consumer clouds were designed with the presumption that people will be the largest content/data generators and/or the focal points. Enterprise clouds, on the other hand, were designed with the presumption that “corporate IT systems” and functional business processes will be the largest content/data generators and/or the focal points. In contrast, Predix Cloud is designed with the presumption that “industrial machines & critical OT systems" will be the largest contributors of content/data while leveraging the learnings and capabilities that were born from the consumer and enterprise cloud movements. 

Predix isn't so much an infrastructure offering, GE says, as it is a PaaS solution. It combines technology created in-house by GE, as well as the Cloud Foundry developer platform. It is also able to be run on other cloud infrastructure services "if required by a customer." No details yet on which platforms Predix supports (or, for that matter, will support Predix). An interesting part of Predix is that it appears to include a heavy service element to ensure security and regulatory compliance. According to GE, Predix comes with an extended trust model, whereby GE Security Operations Center works with individual customer’s security operations to build in redundancy. Much like the applications that run inside a customer’s infrastructure, Predix Security Operations Center is taking action on behalf of customers.

Predix would appear to include a lot of operational analytics with the platform. GE has built a “software defined mortar” into each layer of the cloud stack; each layer gives insight into data loss and helps monitor, detect and isolate malware or malicious activities — this feels like a cross between a network and application monitoring tool and a security analytics tool. Either way, it seems like a valuable addition to the platform.

The best proof of a platform is when it gets used by the company selling it — and Predix seems to be ticking boxes in this regards. GE businesses will begin migrating its software and analytics to the Predix Cloud in Q4 2015, and the service will be commercially available to customers and other industrial businesses for managing data and applications on Predix Cloud in 2016.

GE is serious about this IoT opportunity. Whether it can truly morph itself into being a software vendor remains to be seen.

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