Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Some thought concerning a rapidly emerging internet of things 3: the active and interactively connected network

Posted in business and convergent technologies, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on June 2, 2013

This is my third posting to a series on a rapidly emerging new level of online involvement and connectedness: the internet of things (see Part 1: starting a new series and Part 2: barcodes, RFID’s and the passive network.)

I turn here to consider the internet of more actively connected and 2-way communicating devices and networking nodes – the active internet of things. And I begin by acknowledging that this is what comes to mind for most people when the idea of an internet of things per se enters their conversation or comes to mind. I am going to discuss some specific networked examples and how existing technologies can be leveraged to functionally build and enable them, in my next series installment. My goal here is to discuss active node networks of things in general, and at least something of their basic properties.

A network of active, communicating devices, organized as a system of connected nodes can in principle be formed in two ways:

• Informally and on an ad hoc basis, or
• According to a rules-based system and an explicit network business model.

The former can be thought of as representing a more organic growth pattern and the later represents a more structured and organized approach to these networks, their organization and their overall functionalities and functional connections. I specifically discuss rules-based networks here, simply noting that much of what I present in what follows would apply to at least functionally interconnected subsystems within any given ad hoc developed network too. And I start by considering what could be considered a prototype local area network that might simply be functionally interconnected as a separate system, but that barring security concerns would increasingly be expected to be connected into the larger, global internet too.

I begin by noting what would formally be included in such a network:

• The nodes of this prototype local network would be added into the network as a whole according to an underlying logic. It does not make sense to connect a node A device to a node B device, at least directly, unless there are significant likely circumstances where information that could be generated as output in one of them, would significantly serve as input data for the other. Think of the overall pattern of this information flow as representing the application of a business model of the network as an organized system: the system of data output and input dependencies and transmissions that would be expected to at least situationally arise in it.
• And every network node-designating device in the network would either produce at least some output that would facilitate the effective functioning of at least one other node device in that networked system, or it would require input from at least one other such node for its fully effective functionality, or both. So a node might transmit only, receive only or both transmit to and receive data from elsewhere in that same network.
• And the pattern of functional and data sharing interactions between nodes of the network would be such that it would not be possible to divide out any of its nodes from it, without breaking significant potential connections. So a functional single network could not be divided into fully separable smaller networks without at least some loss of functional potential for at least one node.
• And data transmission in or out of a node would change its state or condition of functionality, making the overall network it is participating in a dynamically changing system of functionally active and responsive component parts.

And with that I lay out the basic parameters as to what would constitute the whole of a network as a system of networking nodes and connected devices. How do networked devices actually communicate to share and receive information in this system?

• A network as a whole would in most cases be set up according to a single overarching system and standard of communication, and even if some of its components or subsystems are explicitly set up with special additional security access and control oversight mechanisms in place.
• In principle, either standard and generally recognized internet based networking protocols and programming languages and scripts can be used, or more proprietary networking protocols and scripts can be utilized in setting up an active network of things.
• Standard networking technologies and approaches here would come pre-tested and vetted and would not require the additional time, effort or expenses of in-house development and testing, and code and systems correction and refinement to build an effective and reliable system. Proprietary networking connectivity software would carry these additional costs and risks but would be more secure from outside and unauthorized access or activity. So this might be considered a viable alternative for certain high-security applications.
• In either case, one functional goal would in most cases be to keep networking communications lean and compact on a per transmission basis, and both to reduce bandwidth requirements for any given node to node interactions, and to help control the size and growth rate of any log files of network activity that would be maintained. Lean here, facilitates overall network scalability in the face of any overall systems bandwidth limitations faced by the network owning organization as a whole.

A more detailed representation of network connectivity and assembly enters in here too, where active networks can be represented and mapped out as being assembled from the application of simpler basic connection patterns, such as:

• Daisy chain subsystems in the form of A to B to C to … connection patterns, and
• Branching subsystems such as A to B and also to C and … patterns. These can occur as two or more to one, or one to two or more network pattern elements.
• Rules based systems that specify which nodes are permitted to connect to which others, would both specify what basic connectivity patterns would be allowed and where in the overall system and under what circumstances, and all of that would collectively comprise a part of that network’s business model too.
• Hardwired, wire or cable connected networks in effect mandate a single permitted pattern of allowed node to node and device to device connectivity and constitute a closed connectivity permissions system.
• Wireless systems can be set up so as to enforce closed connectivity permissions systems too but they also allow for more dynamically flexible open connectivity permissions systems.
• And these rules of engagement for how nodes collectively connect and interact at this level, would also enter into defining the network-based business model in place.

As noted towards the top of this posting, active local networks of things can be maintained as isolated systems, and cut off from all outside networking connections. But they can also be connected into larger systems including the internet as a whole.

• That can mean direct connections in and out of a local active network of things, all going through a single central hub/connection point in which case the local network and its internal structure and workings present themselves as a black box system to the outside world.
• Or systems can be set up in such a way as to support direct outside connectivity to several or even many functional nodes within the system and even scattered throughout it.
• This has both security and functionality implications, and for the first of these approaches, one of the nodes in the system might specifically be serving as a firewall and information transfer authenticator resource for the network as a whole.

I am going to conclude this posting here, at this point simply acknowledging that I have written it as an abstract representation as to what an active node network of things is. As noted at the beginning of this posting, I am going to take this out of the abstract in my next series installment where I will explicitly discuss specific example systems. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and its continuation page, and at Social Networking and Business.

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