Several devices and software that connect plant-floor data operate by simply hosting a traditional website in the cloud. Companies will then call it a Cloud Service. These devices connect to a website which stores the data and Web pages in the cloud. Then, the user waits for mobile devices to connect and pickup this data. These systems have existed for years.

However, the new trend is to stop hosting websites on dedicated Web servers and instead put them on more flexible and scalable cloud-computing clusters. Most of such schemes are custom-made and require a lot of development and maintenance. Because these services only provide connectivity for things, the overall approach is called the Internet for Things or Things on Internet (ToI).

On the other hand, the Internet of Things (IoT) lets devices talk directly to each other, make joint decisions, and exchange data between devices without the need for the cloud or servers. IoT is an evolution of the M2M (Machine to Machine) model with many devices involved, just like MM2MM (Many Machines to Many Machines). The word Things can represent physical devices and machines, as well as virtual services and functions.

Meanwhile, multiple things talking directly to each other in a given network are referred to as Clusters of the IoT. To illustrate this idea, imagine a connected home which has several different types of connected devices, all talking to each other on the same network. Intermediary Things, also called hubs or relays, extend the reach of all connected things across multiple network and device categories or vendors. A hub or relay hosted in the cloud can be used to bridge clusters of things across locations and even continents, but is not necessary for the proper function of each cluster.

Therefore, true IoT solutions do not require the Internet. The word Internet in this context is short for Internetworking of Things. The word does not refer to the Internet itself. In short, you could say the Internet for Things focuses on the Internet while the IoT focuses on the devices (Things).

But IoT connectivity can be cumbersome. Isn’t it strange that a person standing next to a thermostat must connect to it via the Internet to change the temperature from an iPhone? On the same note, if the Internet is down — no one can change the temperature. The reason for connectivity issues is not obvious but it is simple — the thermostat can only make calls. Likewise, the iPhone can only make calls (data calls to be precise). A hub or relay fixes the problem because it receives both calls and then lets the two devices talk.

True IoT solutions should allow direct access to any device from any device. In essence, IoT technology lets devices such as  thermostats accept secure incoming calls. If you are on the road with your iPhone, you just need a cloud relay to make a secure connection to the thermostat.

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Chris worked in industrial-automation software development for 25 years at Siemens Energy and Automation and at Microsoft before founding C-Labs.