How the Internet Works

{EAV:98ce57f504818587}Sometimes it’s good for a little reminder and refresher as to the internal workings of the MOST integrated technology in all of ours lives! Complements of open-site.org 🙂

Engineering The Internet

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What’s Next on the Grid (Healthcare Edition)

There is a lot of activity in the Smart Grid space these days, particularly in the buildout of the infrastructure necessary to get going on at the least the initial vision of the Smart Grid whereby utilities will monitor home and commercial building energy consumption to optimize the generation and distribution of energy during times less stressful on the same generation sources, distribution networks, and ultimately pocketbooks of those purchasing the energy. However what is beyond the infrastructure and what are truly new services that can overlay or be completely new experiences for the end users and monetization opportunities for the service providers, which may include the utilities but not be exclusive to them? I argue that these new services need to be thought of in terms of the target “consumers” of the services and new lifestyle attributes created from these services. As the first in the What’s Next on the Grid series, this article will discuss at a high level how Healthcare is one of these many new services and lifestyle impacts that the Smart Grid++ will create.

What do Healthcare and the Smart Grid have in relation to each other, apart from the fact that the same end consumers of the Smart Grid services are all human beings (Ed.: machine-to-machine applications on the grid notwithstanding) that need to lead healthy lives? At first glance, pretty much nothing in common. However let’s look at a few characteristics that the two have in common.

  1. Both use wireless technologies. In Smart Grid, AMI is implementing Zigbee and Home Area Networks (HANs) are implementing several wireless technologies such as WiFi. In Healthcare, hospitals and clinics are implementing WiFi for voice and data communications (and other proprietary wireless) and the Healthcare vertical has been an early adopter of wireless technologies due to complexities with running wired infrastructure for connected devices.
  2. Both are connecting their devices. Meters, appliances, thermostats and TVs connected to a network is the first step to monitoring their energy consumption. Similarly connecting X-ray machines, home dialysis machines, medicine carts, patient tracking badges and in-home heartrate monitors are the first steps to creating anywhere, anytime patient monitoring.
  3. Both see mobile devices and technologies as game changers. Whether it is iPhones, iPads or other mobile Internet devices and displays, remote and on-the-go manageability is an absolute need for doctors, nurses, building managers, or utility operations personnel. We’re seeing the traditional closed NOC center become more and more distributed as mobile becomes pervasive.
  4. Both are seeing significant innovations in the cloud. This dimension is more of a When and not If it will happen. But also How it will happen. Scalability and reliability of the cloud has been proven time and time again. However both Smart Grid and Healthcare have requirements for privacy of consumer/patient information, massive data management of petabytes and exabytes of detailed data (real-time energy consumption data from dozens of devices in a home to large MRI and other diagnostic imaging data from radiology departments), and strict regulations of who can access this data.

Rather than looking at each of the above dimensions individually and in a vacuum of minutiae, let’s look at them from a couple of fictional usage scenarios centered around how they benefit the lifestyles and livelihoods of the users. Fictional only in that I’ve not heard they’ve been actually implemented but technically very feasible.

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

Babyboomers are the largest new segment of the population entering their “golden years” but with both financial capability and a desire for wellness not just visit their doctors when they catch a bug. Many are staying proactively healthy with exercise, activities and good dietary habits. Imagine their stationary bicycles and Stairmasters connected to a converged wellness management system that also gives them suggestions or implements automated rules that reduce their energy spending. The stationary bicycles send their physicians and dietitians real-time and historical information of how they’re exercise program is going, their heartrate range from at-rest to peak performance, weight, etc. If the users also included some anaerobic cardio such as swimming in their programs, wouldn’t it be nice if the pool heater and pool pump energy consumption were activated according to the people’s schedules? If there were changes to the schedule, they can enter the new schedule via their mobile smartphones or simply via their locations the schedules can be altered.

Code Blue in Room 305

There are many critical systems within a hospital environment such as the intensive care wards, radiology departments, patient and asset tracking systems, access to medical records and so forth. Some, but not all, hospitals have backup generators to weather through power outages but the rise of renewables such as solar and other alternatives could make the hospital environment its own micro-grid with these various power source subsystems that can be tapped and utilized in optimal times and conditions. However a holistic view of all the critical systems WITH the available alternate power subsystems implemented in a Critical Intelligence and Rules service ensures that all of the patient care and hospital management systems are available at all times in the most efficient manner. The MRI machines draw a lot of power so they wouldn’t necessarily be switched to a battery bank while the 900 MHz Asset HAN can easily operate on duty cycles conducive to drawing from the batteries during peak tariff periods.

Check On Grandma

Many of us having aging parents and grandparents who we’d like to be able to check on from time to time, given our very active lives with traveling, taking care of kids or running companies. In comes the mobile phone as the portal to many of these personal facets of our lives. I can see to ensure the temperature is comfy for Grandma in Miami because there happens to be a major cold chill sweeping through the area and she doesn’t know how to work that new programmable thermostat the utility installed. At the same time I can see that she’s up to date on her heart medication because she’s been taking the pills at the same times every day (RFID on the pill container with an integrated alert) and her in-home heart check monitor is giving me a green indication stating all is well. I’m on vacation in Europe with the kids so I sleep much better knowing this. We’ll give her a call tomorrow after the gondola ride.

Summary

There are no lack of opportunities where the Smart Grid is more than just a grid for distributing energy at the right time of day. The ultimate uptake by consumers will be in the many layered ways they perceive these services touch and improve their lives. Some parts will be slower than others but beyond the infrastructure, the services need to be developed in a very user and customer-centric manner if they are to make good business sense as well.

Smart Grid and Telecom Carriers…Friends or Foes?

I’m attending the OpenSG conference in Ft Lauderdale this week hosted by Florida Power and Light. The event is chock full of smart people, smart discussion and debate (as industry consortia go, there appears to be sparce rhetoric among the participants…although this is my first OpenSG event). I’ve had several sidebar conversations with utilities, consultants, vendors, and standards bodies or industry forum coordinators thus far. The conversations have ranged from smart grid security to OpenADR conformity and verification to more general smart grid topics and trends. It’s relatively impressive the pace at which the various working groups and committees are developing their specifications and recommendations that may ultimately become standards through more formal standards development organizations (SDOs) like IETF, IEEE, and so forth.

One category of participants which I’m not surprised is not in attendance though have high hopes this will change soon are the telecom operators or network operators in general. At least I’ve not noticed them in attendance. So the likes of AT&T, Sprint (and I know they have a Smart Grid initiative) or Verizon are persona non grata. I’m not surprised because I believe the evolution of the smart grid is such that it’s pretty early in the business model critical mass curves of the telecom operators. Simply put, I don’t believe they know how to make money on the smart grid at this point. This is fine but will need to be reconciled soon. There are many many parallels between the smart grid and telecom as far as how each will or has evolved to the Internet model, as well as their opportunities to collaborate. I had this exact discussion with a colleague from EnerNex. And not surprisingly both he and I had significant telecom backgrounds both from service provider and vendor perspectives (he was at Verizon and I was at Cisco and Motorola). That also appears to be a big gap in terms of smart grid/utility industry engaging the telecom players…if you don’t know who and how, it’s a harrowing experience just showing up on the lobby and saying “who do I talk to about your smart grid business?” An example I derived from the Smart Grid Security bootcamp I attended on Monday proved this point or at least just provided a useful datapoint. When the speaker took an adhoc poll of the years in the power industry among all the audience participants, the average was roughly 10-15 years! This ranged from 2 years (myself and another participant) to as high as 25 years.

Some of the parallels among smart grid and telecom that the EnerNex gentleman and I briefly discussed were:

  • both had to overcome major legacy from business models to operations to adoption of new radically different technologies (e.g., IP)
  • both suffered from extremely vertically integrated businesses and operations infrastructures
  • both see themselves as service providers with unique offerings
  • both are beholden to the whims of regulators and regulatory pressures
  • both are actually VERY good at customer service from the perspective of customer care and billing relationships are core to their businesses
  • both look at industry and standards for making decisions on adoption of new technologies and practices
  • IMPORTANT: both certainly can benefit from the guidance of people who’ve “done it before” for softening their respective migration to the New World

This last point is a key one. For example (and a gratuitous infomercial of my company) at People Power we have a significant presence of engineering, sales and executives that came from the computing and mobile industries. In other words we have experience dealing in complex value chains and ecosystems, embedded technologies, lengthy certification cycles, painful standards processes, and migration from legacy to new connected technologies. Hmm, looks like the same script being played out with a new stage and cast! What do you think? Should smart grid and telecom become BFFs or hate each other?

The ABCs of xANs

Recently I’ve had some discussions with industry analysts, friends in startups and even large companies regarding the alphabet soup of xAN (example: LAN for Local Area Network). The discussions primarily centered around how fragmented the technical abbreviations are getting across a multitude of industries. An example is LAN is associated to the IT industry (not others) and IAN (Incident Area Network) is associated with public safety, but again not others. I figured it would be a useful exercise to catalog the xANs and the industry(s) that they generally apply to.

Maybe a frivolous intellectual exercise, maybe a candidate for Wikipedia, maybe nothing at all. Here goes. (Ed. note: I don’t have all the answers but some and several guesses). And thank you, Wikipedia for many of the definitions!

  1. AAN: n/a
  2. BAN: Body Area Network, relatively new term that is self explanatory to the network of devices within an individual person (example, a soldier or firefighter); applies to IT, Public Safety, Military/Defense
  3. CAN:
    1. Controller Area Network, a vehicle bus standard designed to allow microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle without a host computer; applies to IT and Computer Engineering
    2. Campus Area Network, a computer network made up of an interconnection of local area networks (LANs) within a limited geographical area; applies to IT and Telecom
  4. DAN: n/a (though it Divers Alert Network is near and dear to me as a scuba diver 😉
  5. EAN: Enternet Aggregation Network but there is an Enterprise Private Network which could apply, network build by an enterprise to interconnect the various company sites (production sites, head offices, remote offices, shops etc.) in order to share computer resources over the network; applies to IT.
  6. FAN: Facility Area Network(?); applies to Smart Grid and Energy Utilities, based on recent discussions.
  7. GAN: Global Area Network, a network used for supporting mobile communications across an arbitrary number of wireless LANs, satellite coverage areas, etc.; applies to IT.
  8. HAN: Home Area Network, a residential LAN which is used for communication between digital devices typically deployed in the home, usually a small number of personal computers and accessories, such as printers and mobile computing devices; applies to IT+Smart Grid
  9. IAN: Incident Area Network, an emergency responder network focused on the immediate geography of an emergency incident occurrence; applies to Public Safety.
  10. JAN: Jurisdictional Area Network, an emergency responder network possibly containing multiple IANs and with a higher level onsite command structure than the IANs; applies to Public Safety.
  11. KAN: n/a
  12. LAN: Local Area Network; applies to IT
  13. MAN: Metropolitan Area Network, common network and administrative domains within a city or municipality; applies to IT and Telecom
  14. NAN: Neighborhood Area Network, analogous to MAN although a more constrained geography localized to a neighborhood; applies to IT and Telecom
  15. OAN: n/a
  16. PAN: Personal Area Network, a network of devices constrained within a room or individual office, sometimes proximity based in the case of wireless; applies to IT
  17. QAN: n/a
  18. RAN: Radio Access Networkpart of a mobile Telecommunication system. It implements a radio access technology. Conceptually, it sits between the Mobile phone, and the core network (CN); applies to Telecom
  19. SAN: Storage Area Network, an architecture to attach remote computer storage devices to servers in such a way that the devices appear as locally attached to the operating system; applies to IT
  20. TAN: Tiny Area Network, a local area network with 2–3 nodes connection. Usually implemented for shared files, folders and printers in a home or small office environment; applies to IT…also defines what you get on Miami Beach (time unbounded TAN evolves to BURN)
  21. UAN: n/a
  22. VAN: Vehicle Area Network, an electronic communications network that interconnects components inside vehicles; applies to Automotive and IT…is also bigger than a car
  23. WAN: Wide Area Network, a computer network that covers a broad area (i.e., any network whose communications links cross metropolitan, regional, or national boundaries; applies to IT and Telecom
  24. XAN: n/a
  25. YAN: n/a
  26. ZAN: n/a

Comments, corrections, flames? BTW, I wrote this on Virgin America flight between San Francisco and Ft. Lauderdale connected to Gogo Wireless (combination of a LAN and GAN…WiFi + Satellite). I already paid the $12.95 so may as well consume some bandwidth. Now time to consume the “May-I-Have-Another-Cocktail Area Network”!