Empowering the edge: Insights on a decentralized Internet of Things

IOT device democracy opens a range of economic opportunities

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The incomprehensibly immense Internet of Things

Our first report in this Internet of Things (IoT) series, “Device democracy: Saving the future of the Internet of Things,” proposes that decentralization can help address the challenges of cost, privacy and longevity in scaling the IoT to an inevitable hundreds of billions of devices.

In this report, we describe how we tested that concept using three goals:

  • Validate the future vision for decentralized systems to extensively augment today’s centralized solutions
  • Demonstrate foundational IoT tasks without the use of centralized control
  • Empower devices to engage autonomously in marketplace transactions.

Decentralized networks reduce costs

By empowering devices to engage autonomously in markets—both financial and non-financial—and react to changes in markets, the IoT will create an “Economy of Things.” Virtually every device and system can potentially become a point of transaction and economic value creation for owners and users. These capabilities will be crucial to everything from enabling sharing economies to energy efficiency and distributed storage.

As the IoT scales exponentially, decentralized networks have the potential to reduce infrastructure and maintenance costs to manufacturers. Decentralization also promises increased robustness by removing single points of failure that could exist in traditional centralized networks. By shifting the power in the network from the center to the edges, devices gain greater autonomy and can become points of transaction and economic value creation for owners and users.

Demonstrating a distributed system

To validate the underlying technology vision, IBM jointly developed with Samsung Electronics the Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry (ADEPT) proof-of-concept (PoC). This represented the second phase of the 2014 IBM Internet of Things Study.

The primary objective of the ADEPT PoC was to establish a foundation on which to demonstrate several capabilities that are fundamental to building a decentralized IoT. Though many commercial systems in the future will exist as hybrid centralized-decentralized models, ADEPT demonstrates a fully distributed proof.

To perform the functions of traditional IoT solutions without a centralized broker, any decentralized approach must support three foundational functions:

  • Peer-to-peer messaging
  • Distributed file sharing
  • Autonomous device coordination.

The ADEPT PoC implemented these functions using three open source protocols: Telehash for messaging, BitTorrent for file sharing and Ethereum, a blockchain protocol for autonomous device coordination functions such as device registration, authentication, proximity-based and consensus-based rules of engagement, contracts and checklists.

A hybrid future

ADEPT shows great promise for tomorrow’s IoT. As “Device democracy” notes, the humble work of transaction processing is the foundation of modern computing workload. Thanks to major advances in both device technology and software, it is now possible to bring transaction processing, marketplaces and intelligence to virtually every device, anywhere.

Distributed systems like ADEPT can make businesses and consumers more efficient and open a huge range of economic opportunities. These technological changes could foretell the biggest revolution since the origin of general-purpose computing and transaction processing systems.

Future commercial systems may exist as hybrid centralized-decentralized systems depending on the value, longevity and application of devices on the IoT. The feasibility of ADEPT paves the way for augmenting today’s centralized IoT solutions with more decentralized capabilities.

While many commercialization challenges remain, our PoC validated the feasibility of both implementing the foundational functions of a decentralized IoT and enabling device autonomy in IoT transactions and marketplaces. ADEPT opens the door for the electronics industry to further explore the challenges and opportunities of potential hybrid models that can address the complexity and variety of requirements posed by an Internet that continues to scale.

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Sanjay Pannikar

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