Apigee Link draws on Zetta and combines it with Apigee’s core business strengths in API user identities, security and other facets of API management to create what it hopes will be the commercial digital IoT platform that device-makers select when designing how their devices will integrate.
Brian Mulloy, head of the IoT Lab at Apigee and chief architect behind Apigee Link, sees the new product as enabling device-makers to build out ecosystems around their products and better enable device integrations across various brands. At present, one of the key weaknesses of IoT is that often, while devices can speak to the Internet, they are not so great at speaking to each other. It is akin to what Mulloy describes as having a camera on your smartphone, but the camera only lets you post photos to Twitter.
Mulloy sees this as being principally an API challenge — with the easy solution being enabling device manufacturers to leverage APIs supported by an open source software project.
“The IoT is really an API problem, and APIs are best placed to solve it by creating a unified view,” Mulloy told ProgrammableWeb.
Apigee Link is aimed primarily at device-makers, but also at those solution providers who are creating products that draw on machine and sensor devices as part of their products.
Mulloy highlights the hospitality industry as a key example. This is the vertical industry in which Apigee Link’s first customer, CentraLite, is focused. As a hardware and device manufacturer, CentraLite is beginning to leverage Apigee Link by using the product to manage APIs that connect its lighting, thermostat and other home automation-oriented sensor devices. As a result, the company can reorient itself toward being an IoT digital platform. Meanwhile, solution providers can create software products such as reservation booking and in-house catering systems that integrate CentraLite and other machine, device and sensor information directly into the interface as an information source.
“Device-makers will be able to use Apigee Link to link their devices to the cloud and have a world-class REST API above that, and then reconceptualize themselves as a digital platform,” Mulloy confirms.
He says Apigee Link can foster IoT ecosystems at three layers:
- On the device itself: APIs can define who or what else can communicate with the device.
- At the hub level: APIs can enable each device to be a node in a hub — for example, a set-top box (like Comcast) or a home automation hub. Apigee has already seen how its customer Philips Hue has leveraged this by enabling APIs to operate in clusters on a lighting hub via API.
- Finally, at the cloud level: The traditional API-enabled application ecosystem can connect devices in the cloud.
Until now, says Mulloy, “the key piece of infrastructure that has been missing are the APIs that can route the traffic. We have been sitting in the front row watching how Philips Hue has used Apigee Edge at the hub. We think they could really go deeper to bring that API culture closer to the device. The Internet is really about having devices talk to each other directly. That’s what we are seeing heating up.”
CentraLite: Transforming Into a Digital Platform
Founded as a lighting control device manufacturer focused on the home automation market, CentraLite in 2008 saw the potential of the emerging wireless technologies and the ability to expand its manufacturing focus, and through partnerships with Comcast, Time Warner and others, began building motion, temperature, humidity and other sensor-activated devices. In 2013, this led to a partnership with the now Samsung-owned SmartThings.
With its newly realized product range, CentraLite was ideally positioned to enter enterprise markets such as hospitality, explains Sean Bryant, vice president of sales and marketing. But it was not until CentraLite began using APIs as the layer to manage those devices that this vision could be scaled successfully.
“With hospitality, we were force-feeding them an interface that they weren’t used to,” says John Calagaz, CentraLite's chief technology officer.
For example, a hotel front desk is usually looking at their bookings and hotel guest room interface. But when Room 501 calls down and says they are hot, reception would have to switch over to another system (that connects to CentraLite’s products), check they have authorization, see that it is hot, and see that it is because the heat is on, and then they could turn the heat setting down.
Now, with APIs for our devices, what we can offer them is for a module that can be integrated into their reservations interface: Now they will see a thermostat module, in the one system, and they can quickly change the temperature settings. That saves them almost five minutes, and when you have a customer on the phone, that’s a big difference in customer service. The same thing could go for maintenance. Maintenance are used to looking at the back end and having an engineering view, so what we have done now is to take our devices and via APIs, they can use the same graphical interface and now look at demand from in-room use, and from chillers and boilers on the roof. At 2 p.m. in the afternoon, they can see that the hotel is only 30% occupied and can make decisions like turning off two of their three boilers, for example.
CentraLite’s experiences with Apigee Link mirror some of the early wins businesses have had with APIs generally. The costs associated with developing an interface that controls their hardware have been completely removed, as end customers can use their APIs to design the interface themselves and integrate into their existing business management systems. In turn, those solution providers that build systems like the booking room interface that integrates with CentraLite’s device APIs will potentially extend CentraLite’s customer reach and bring new customers and verticals to CentraLite.
For CentraLite, the benefits come from not having to tell customer segments they can’t work with them.
It used to be that Sean or one of the sales guys would say we could sell this device if it has this interface feature, and we were so busy we didn’t get to do it. Now we’re able to focus on what we do best, which is the hardware and the interfaces to it. So now we can create the APIs. Now we are able to go after a new set of customers. What the platform will enable us to do will be to follow up with enterprise customers that we wouldn’t usually work with. This is allowing us to get into the hospitality vertical, which we wouldn’t have been able to get into without having this solution.
Apigee Link is available as a product in the Apigee API management suite, while Zetta remains an open source project. CentraLite’s device APIs are in alpha stage, with a launch expected in the middle of the year.