The way Scott Noteboom sees it, the data center is the perfect stepping stone to the Internet of Things (IoT).
“We understand the Internet of Things, which involves machines running software and communicating over a network,” said Noteboom. “We’ve been doing that in the data center for 25 years.”
The insights Noteboom gained in building hyperscale data centers for Yahoo and Apple have laid the groundwork for his next big adventure: creating an operating system for the Internet of Things through LitBit, a startup he created in 2013.
“I would like to think of it as an Android for the enterprise Internet of Things,” Noteboom says of his new venture. “We’re building a platform allowing all of these machines to connect, open up insights to people, and be secure.”
An Ambitious Vision for the IoT
The LitBit team has spent three years in stealth mode developing its technology, which he discussed at the recent 7×24 Exchange conference. It seeks to gain a foothold in the data center space, and then expand to broader use as an IoT management tool.
Noteboom sees the data center as the right launchpad for a company that seeks to bring order to a distributed network of sensors. The industry has spent the past decade instrumenting just about everything in the data centers, from servers and storage to generators, chillers and UPS systems.
“One of the challenges in the data center was ‘how do we get hundreds of thousands of computers to talk to one another’,” said Noteboom. “We’ve frankly solved the problem in the data center space, and realized that this can work on any enterprise that has machines and equipment that need to talk to one another. It’s anything that requires machines to work together.”
Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software may provide a template for the Internet of Things to build upon. But Noteboom’s vision for LitBit extends far beyond the boundaries of traditional DCIM. LitBit is creating an orchestration layer for the Internet of Things, developing an open source platform that allows IoT devices to talk to one another.
That platform, known as iota, is currently being incubated by the Apache Software Foundation. The vision is to create an open source alternative to the proprietary platforms emerging from the vendor community.
“We think open source is the way to go,” said Noteboom. “We’re the first big IoT platform that’s been embraced by Apache. Anyone can create a translation to get their device on the platform. We think that whole proprietary way of thinking is why things haven’t evolved as well.”
The Road From AboveNet to LitBit
Noteboom began running data centers in 2000 at AboveNet, one of the major colocation players during the dot-com boom and bust. He would go on to lead the data center team at Yahoo, which pioneered the “chicken coop” design in the company’s data centers in Lockport, N.Y. and Quincy, Wash. In 2011 he moved to Apple, where the data center operations are more low profile, before launching LitBit in 2013. His co-founder is J.P. Balajadia, who worked with Noteboom at AboveNet before joining the founding team at 365 Main Street.
Earlier this year LitBit raised $7 million to fund its next phase of growth. The round was led by Storm Ventures, with investments from Illuminate Ventures, Correlation Ventures and AME Cloud Ventures, a fund backed by Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang. Other investors include CBC, Cloud
The LitBit team has developed a software suite to manage distributed devices and equipment. This includes an orchestration platform consisting of iota and RhythmOS, which provide an on-ramp for devices, including legacy data center equipment as well as next-generation IoT devices. RhythmOS uses Apache Mesos for scalability, and is offered via the cloud or an on-site server.Scott Noteboom: The translation layer for IoT device communication is a huge challenge.Click To Tweet
“A key part of our platform is the translation layer,” said Noteboom. “It’s a huge challenge. It’s actually a bigger cultural problem than a technology problem.”
That’s because the world of devices is fragmented, with many different technologies and standards. Many data center devices communicate via widely-used building management protocols like MODBUS or BACnet, while IT equipment may use SNMP. LitBit’s software enables translation modules so devices can plug in to the platform
“We can quickly create actors that allow quick development of microservices for these translators,” said Noteboom. “We can take a list of the top 100 IoT devices and create translation modules.”
Power In The Apps
LitBit has also developed apps that allow users to manage devices (Maestro), create alerts and reports (Vitals) and use machine learning techniques to analyze data (Intellect).
“It’s the apps that are built on top of (the LitBit platform) that will prove to be the most valuable,” said Noteboom. “In the marketplace, you have to build the Android equivalent, as well as the first handful of applications that run on top of it. It’s those apps that get people excited about the platform.”
Although its products’ capabilities extend beyond those of first-generation DCIM offerings, LitBit faces similar challenges in gaining traction in a risk-averse industry. It helps that Noteboom is known in the data center sector, and he expects that there will be customer announcements later this year.Scott Noteboom: The Internet of Things is coming full force to the world, and we will have some work to do.Click To Tweet
In his presentation at 7×24, Noteboom addressed the opportunity for the opportunity in a modern Data Center Internet of Things (DCIoT). Many of the historic challenges in managing infrastructure are fading, he said, due to advancements in edge computing power, cheap sensors, smarter mobile apps and improvements in the control layer for devices.
“The biggest challenge we will face as an industry is the inherent fear of change that tends to accompany the mindset of an operator,” he writes in a blog post about the 7×24 discussion. “While advancements in systems/network/storage hardware and software continue to occur in the front of house in the data center, other silos in back have remained stuck in the past.
“With major gains driven by the coming era of continuous software defined advancements on top of commodity hardware approaching, the DC-IoT will enable practically endless opportunities– some of which can even be tough to comprehend using today’s thinking,” Noteboom said. ” In a nutshell, the Internet of Things is coming full force to the world, and we will have some work to do. That’s exciting.”