Retooling Data Synchronization For IoT

Author

Robert Vamosi, Contributor

January 15, 2015

It used to be that a TV remote maintained a private connection, a line of sight infrared signal between you and the TV. Today TVs are capable of much more, so you might need an app on your mobile device to control all the Internet-connected services available. In some cases, that simple volume up command goes from your mobile device to a server several hundreds of miles away and then back to your digital TV. One company, PubNub, is making sure that your data synchronization requests are handled within a quarter of a second or less.

“We made an investment, not only on the marketing side but the SDK side as well, to not only support servers and desktop, but also support embedded devices,” said PubNub CEO Todd Greene in an interview with Forbes.com. “We have almost 250 million devices on our network every month. That’s close to 5 percent of the entire IPv4 space. We transact 3 million messages a minute, which takes us to about Twitter volumes.”

“Think of us as a Content Delivery Network for data streams,” he said.

The company started in 2009 with real time synchronous advertising in social TV — interactive ads from Coke, McDonald’s, Nike, Louis Vuitton, and Dodge. For example, during the Super Bowl ad voting might have 100 thousand or maybe a million mobile apps weighing in on the results. Greene said that all those streams of data pass through their network and down to the servers that decide the right answer for a particular Super Bowl ad.

The company now wants to bring that data synchronization experience to the Internet of Things.

Last week at the International CES 2015 in Las Vegas, PubNub announced SDK support for IoT prototyping systems include those from Atmel and Arduino. The support means IoT developers can implement remote device control, firmware upgrades, and device provisioning in their products through the data synchronization that PubNub provides. Greene sees a lot of opportunity across all IoT categories, but in particular he said his company’s strengths can be best demonstrated in transportation, home automation, and consumer electronics. “That’s also where there’s a lot of IoT growth happening,” Greene said.

Virtually any taxi app that you download today—for example, GetTaxi– uses PubNub. “We pretty much own that space,” Greene said. On the customer side there’s the real time ability to track the progress of the taxi to your location. On the back-end the taxi company may route your request to several different taxis, one of which may be currently in a tunnel. Once that taxi resurfaces, PubNub reestablishes its connection, rolls up any stored messages and within milliseconds squirts the messages out to that taxi. “PubNub can also navigate changing cell phone towers, carriers, 3G, 4G and still do all that catch up in real time,” he said.

This works for not just taxis but delivery services, car sharing services, and consumer car telematics. An example of the latter is Mojio, an IoT service that can stream telematics information directly from your car to a remote server, tracking drivers and passing information back or looking at the car’s error codes in real time.

Home automation products, such as Insteon also use PubNub. “If you think about it,” Greene said, “data streams aren’t just on the open internet, they need to happen from a lot of devices behind a firewall.” PubNub can get through any kind of firewall and still connect to one the company’s Points of Presence.

“Every new purchase of [the Insteon] product,” Greene said, “used to involve a 6-25 minute phone call—here’s how to find home router, here’s how to do port forwarding, things average consumer doesn’t want to mess with.” Now, with PubNub on the back-end, he said customers just plug it in and it works.

Greene argued that reducing friction with firewalls doesn’t necessarily compromise security. “There’s almost no way to secure an open port on an embedded device—at some point it’s going to get hacked. PubNub erases that [vulnerability].” He explained that his service starts with an outbound connection, not an inbound connection. “If hacker is scanning IP addresses, they won’t even know there’s a device there,” he said.

A third area of IoT growth for the company is consumer electronics, from smartwatches to audio products. These generally involve small pieces of data– score updates, song lists, and yes, volume up and volume down commands. “Our network does this through our massive global infrastructure. We cascade the message first to our data centers, then out to those devices.”

PubNub also maintains a Service Level Agreement that states if the service is down more than 26 seconds in a month, then the company will pay out credits to its customers.

To achieve that company maintains tremendous redundancy, using their own servers plus those from Rackspace and Amazon to synchronize data across all vendors. “Our service runs as a layer above the core intranet,” Greene said. “If we lose a data center, no one notices because all the sockets move over– all the connections to devices move over — to next closes data center, with all the same data sitting there. We solve the coordination costs of real time synchronization.”

That said, PubNub’s data synchronization might be too perfect, he admitted. During the EuroCup 2012 the biggest complaint was whenever Spain’s score or field position to changed, the satellite TV latency was about 7 seconds, so the people watching TV were seeing text saying that Spain had scored 6 seconds earlier. “The complaint was can you slow it down?” Greene said, with a smile.

This article was written by Robert Vamosi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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