With some estimates for industrial internet of things (IIoT) spending nearing the $12.4 billion mark in 2015 alone, there’s plenty of room for capitalising on managing and maintaining these connected assets. The sector is only set to grow, as the world hurtles towards becoming a completely connected planet – where every feasible 'thing' will be able to speak to and learn from one another.
Predix is a platform as a service cloud designed for analysing and capturing industrial machine data, which companies can also develop onto – whether this is asset lifecycle maintenance or for developing applications to apply analytics in oil and gas.
It went to the general availability stage in February of this year, and signed up 18 new partners this quarter alone, including giants like IT services firm Tech Mahindra and predictive maintenance company KCF.
The platform is designed specifically to meet the security, scale and speed requirements of industrial businesses – Boeing, ConocoPhillips and Pitney Bowes are all customers. See also: GE Digital CEO William Ruh interview: How to unite the digital with the physical in big business
This differs from traditional public cloud or enterprise platforms exactly because it is industrially focused, Ruh says, although Predix can work with any public cloud providers as long as they support Cloud Foundry, on which the platform is built.
But why would industrial organisations decide to develop with Predix over, say, AWS or other public providers? AWS and their ilk offer IoT cloud platforms themselves, although these are more general purpose than the industrial-first Predix. And because GE builds heavy machinery itself, it arguably understands what customers in the space require and want to develop on.
“It’s the ability to put out and leverage asset management analytics, and it’s uniquely focused on time series, the data that machines give out. Nobody else focuses on this in the same way at al," Ruh says.
“It’s capability around monitoring, diagnostics, analytics, aimed at managing assets, plants, factories, fields, and we’re continuing to add more in manufacturing, in the building and city realm, and in the asset performance management realm.”
“[The customers are] Exelon, the energy company,” he says. “It’s Pitney Bowes, mailing machines. It’s Toshiba and their elevators. It’s LIXIL and their home goods products.”
Security is also a major concern for heavy industry. While in the quaint old days malware was mostly associated with keystroke loggers and trojan horses, the ramifications today are significantly more profound.
The Stuxnet worm, for example, was used to shut down the nuclear centrifuges critical to Iran’s nuclear programme. As the physical world becomes increasingly inseparable from the digital, it is more vulnerable than ever to attacks through software used to control it. More recently, we’ve seen attacks on energy grids, infrastructure and hospitals.
It’s no surprise, then, that GE’s core customer base has a different set of security needs to traditional IT.
“The problem we see is that most of the security out there is IT security,” Ruh explains. “When we need to protect our data centres and our PCs, we’re buying capabilities and applying them to what we have. The real problem is when you talk about securing power plants and grids, the vast majority of security investments in the IT community are irrelevant.”
“They are not the same that you see against a gas turbine or a power plant. We’re seeing that there’s a gap in the security world and we’ve had to fill it in order to participate in it. Everything we do is aimed at around how you secure control systems, and how you secure remote operational technologies, not a data centre.”
With the above considered, Ruh believes Predix will grow to a $10 billion business by 2020.
“Those are very aggressive numbers. [But] we continued a five-year movement to the cloud –our cloud strategy has a private community aspect to it. It’s not a fully public cloud.”
This, he says, is appealing to customers. “We can offer a more secure private cloud environment,” Ruh explains.
“Obviously the value on top of that is how you manage industrial assets. There’s a lot of unique capabilities about asset and asset lifecycle management. It’s the ability to build highly valuable monitoring and diagnostics capabilities – for example, predictive maintenance.”
According to Ruh, industrial businesses thinking about their product roadmaps now also have to think through the kinds of automation and sensors the equipment will be running – what needs to sit on a gas turbine, or in a locomotive, and what can that tell you?
“What does it mean to have a smart product?” he asks.
An example of this marriage between digital and industrial is one of the company’s offerings in the locomotive sector.
“We built a new product called GoLINC,” Ruh explains. “It’s a data centre in a box you put onto your locomotive, and it allows you to build real-time applications that can connect out to the cloud.
“You’re finding you have to rethink your end product. The ability to put a data centre on a ship is probably not far off. Then the question is: what do you do with it?”
And whatever you do with it, Predix is the platform GE wants you to do it on.