Peer-to-peer device networks take shape

Peer-to-peer device networks take shape

The concept of service-enabled devices (SEDs) started way back in the '80s with something called tuple spaces, and later took shape as Jini under the guidance of Sun Microsystems. Jini came about when Sun's chief scientist, Bill Joy, imagined a peer-to-peer world where every device could talk to every other device: "Hello, I'm a colour printer. This is my feature set and here are my printer drivers. Would you like to access me?"

The concept sounded great but the underpinnings weren't there yet. Today that is changing, and adoption of SEDs in the enterprise is now getting off the ground.

Of course, like a number of interesting technologies, the early adopters of SEDs are in the consumer electronics industry rather than IT. Apple's Bonjour protocol (formerly Rendezvous) connects computers and smart devices in the home. Philips has a Wi-Fi television and there are plenty of Wi-Fi enabled digital video cameras that can upload video to the TV.

Up until now there's been no single initiative to make this happen. Rather, a number of companies have been working on independent tracks to develop similar technologies. But even that is beginning to change.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, a consortium of Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors, is working on a technology code-named Simple Config, which should be available in devices sometime in the third quarter. Although details are somewhat scant, Simple Config removes the complication of getting on the network, making it simple for new devices to get authenticated and secured.The system includes a discovery and a registration protocol that allows devices and APs to find each other and negotiate a pre-shared key. Currently the spec offers two ways to accept a device: The user can enter a PIN, or vendors can actually build in a physical accept button onto the product.

Again, the initial versions of Simple Config are targeted at the home market. But Devicescape Software is incorporating the Wi-Fi Alliance technology into its Wireless Infrastructure Platform (WIP) under the brand name Easy Access, and is cutting deals with Wi-Fi vendors who sell into the enterprise. For example, LVL7 will use WIP to design a unified switch-controlled access point (AP) that can fall back to a standalone AP if the switch fails.

Over time, we will see a new breed of devices that are intertwined with the enterprise. Printers, copiers, security cameras and projectors will be among the first. Of course, in the short run a VoIP handset is the killer app, but getting phones on and off the network seamlessly, without the need for user intervention, is a must before voice over WLAN becomes a reality.We will also see Web services designed to talk directly to devices that connect to the network. In a future world built on SOA, devices will become one component in an overall business process.

For example, we might see an application that routes a photograph of a building from a camera to a real estate office manager's PDA. Business rules could either hold the image in place or try a mobile phone if the PDA is not available to receive. After the image is sent, the system could ask for approval and automatically send digital signatures to the division manager. Or, as SOA becomes part of a solution, we might even see a FedEx delivery scanner that downloads delivery information, not to FedEx HQ, but to the sender's billing system and CRM application.Who said hardware is boring?

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