​Cloud Brains, Smart Buildings & Sensory APs – My VantagePoint

Eric Broockman Chief Technology Officer Published 11 Dec 2019

The brain in the ever-ubiquitous cell phone or your tablet or laptop is an operating system. This OS is really a brain that dynamically juggles the various tasks you and your applications ask of it, keeping track of resources, tidying the place, and delivering all the services needed by the applications. 

At an ever-increasing pace, the brain that runs the cloud is Kubernetes – and it speaks in the language of containers. The simplicity, efficiency, and location-transparency of containers make them especially attractive for packaging up applications. Containers are also a brilliant way to build large and complex applications out of what can potentially be very large collections of cooperative yet smaller and highly specialized applications. This leads to cool discussions on things like microservices and service meshes – but Cloud Brains is the topic here. 

In particular, Kubernetes, K8 for short, is an ingenious invention of Google that was required to deal with the dynamic scale of containers used by GCP for building their infrastructure. The cloud, in general, is the ecosystem driving modern networking and application infrastructure, and K8 is just one such example of this phenomenon (see The Industry’s Networking Powerhouse Isn’t Who You Think). K8, the brain of the cloud, has quickly become part of the AWS and Azure offerings and has been adopted by RedHat and VMware for use in the private cloud and hybrid cloud enterprise markets as well.  

However, K8 is not only flexible enough to seep out of the cloud and settle itself into the private cloud data center of the enterprise; increasingly it is becoming part of enterprise infrastructure and will deliver evermore complex applications. But how so?  

In a modern workplace, Wi-Fi is omnipresent; but Wi-Fi isn’t magic. It is delivered by very smart access points (APs) mounted on the ceiling and connected by Ethernet cable into the central nervous system of the enterprise. As the throughput of APs has increased, and our dependence upon quality Wi-Fi has grown stronger, the compute and memory capability in an AP has increased as well. Today, other than the Wi-Fi radio, there isn’t much else in an AP aside from a tiny low-cost Bluetooth radio. But let’s imagine adding some sensory input. We could include a temperature sensor, visible and infrared light detection, humidity sensors, and a few other radios such as UWB and LoRa. Interestingly, because of the sheer volume of cellphones shipped, most of the chips needed for these sensors and radios are very affordable. 

This is where the K8 cloud brain comes in. It is relatively simple for an AP to run containers. These containers, in turn, can be orchestrated by a master application utilizing K8 to distribute, juggle, and manage these containers. Now that we have a variety of sensory inputs available that are connected to the network and distributed throughout an enterprise environment, what can we do with them?  

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve rarely worked in an office environment where everyone is delighted with the temperature of their cubicle, the conference rooms or their office. Sound familiar? With sensory APs, an office environmental application could collect input on local infrared, temperature, humidity and even people density (the number of phones), mix it with some college-level heat transfer and physics smarts, throw in a dash of Machine Learning, mix that with each person’s preferences for environmental settings and it could control the air temperature and flow rate from smart vents, distributed humidification, and transmissivity of the windows in smart buildings. It could also control the brightness of LED lighting. Collectively, this would improve energy efficiency while at the same time improving the productivity of everyone in the workplace. 

Smart environmental control is certainly a “cool” potential application that many of us would appreciate – but how else can Cloud Brains help? Let’s take this a bit further. People are people everywhere. What if we cloudified this application? Take all this sensor data, along with data on people’s movement, mix it with application performance data, and put it all into a cloud-based application. What was once a local application reacting to sensory information could now expand to use the federated data of many office buildings, some likely smarter or more capable than others, to not only more effectively optimize their environment, but to benchmark their enterprise against others. Perhaps more intriguing, with the availability of employee movement and application data, subtle differences in temperature, lighting, etc. could be processed by an appropriate ML or AI application to optimize not only the collective sense of environmental well-being of employees but their productivity as well.  

How else might sensory APs enabled by Cloud Brains become part of smart buildings in the future?  How often have you had to go to a conference room for the first time, and you had to ask directions, look it up or otherwise spend time navigating your way to the right location? Sound familiar? With sensory APs that include not only Bluetooth but UWB, you can easily envision a Google Maps-like application displaying the optimal route from your current location to your conference room. Even better, if the wayfinding application talks to you through your earbuds to guide you along your route – then there’s no need to look down at your phone.  

There are many other ways that the elegance and simplicity of containers efficiently delivering applications will beget the Cloud Brains of K8 becoming part of the enterprise. Just one more example the ecosystem of the cloud influencing the enterprise, and in this case smart buildings of the enterprise, in the years to come. 

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