Arm’s VP of IoT Cloud Services Shares The Greatest Challenges in IoT Utilities

6 months ago by Sam Holland

As the IoT grows ever more crucial, the same goes for efficient and secure IoT deployments, especially in the increasingly-regulated utilities space. EP’s Sam Holland talked to SVP of software giant Arm’s IoT Cloud Services division, Himagiri Mukkamala, about his experience of optimising IoT solutions in the utilities sector, particularly in relation to Arm’s recent partnership with smart meter manufacturer, EDMI.

Himagiri Mukkamala, senior vice president and general manager of Arm's IoT Cloud Services.

 

The Arm/EDMI partnership was formed in the interest of EDMI optimising their smart metering solutions. This is chiefly through Arm’s Mbed OS, their open-source embedded OS for connected device development; and their Pelion IoT platform, whose software grants both utilities and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) vendors the scope to ensure the secure connectivity and management of various IoT devices.

But as Himagiri—who has extensive experience in many engineering areas, including cybersecurity, product management, and service operations—makes clear here, such software implementations are just the start.

Here’s what the VP told Electronics Point about Arm’s technology and strategies, both the challenges and benefits that the growing IoT brings, and what utilities, AMI vendors and more can learn as the industry becomes increasingly connected.

 

Sam Holland: Could you walk me through both your background and position as senior vice president and general manager of Arm's IoT cloud services?

Himagiri Mukkamala: I come from a long history of building software and cloud platforms, starting with a database company called Sybase, early out of college. Then I did a couple of start-ups before moving to General Electric, and I kick-started their IoT platform—that was six years back, when no one really knew what IoT platforms were.

I later did this initiative product called Predix, which is an IoT platform in the shell space. Then I moved over to Arm a couple of years back, having strongly believed, and as I continue to believe, that the IoT journey for customers starts on the device side, all before moving into the backend infrastructure—as opposed to starting from the cloud side of things. That's why we at Arm strongly believe in hybrid cloud models.

My role at Arm is to have complete responsibility for multiple business lines, including Pelion Device Management and Connectivity Management. I run engineering product for commercial, and drive the required service operations while working with customers.

Plus, I am also on the board of a few start-ups, one of which is in crypto-exchange.

 

SH: Would you like to introduce the IoT part of Arm and the challenges involved in its deployment of IoT devices?

HM: The traditional part of Arm's business is in IP: our partners have shipped more than 130 billion chips based on Arm technology. And as we talk to those partners, and the end customers who are deploying these IoT devices, there's a bunch of challenges that we are starting to see emerge through our conversations.

First and foremost, how do you build these IoT devices? Because there's a lot of variation in terms of operating systems, software frameworks, modules available, and so on. So the whole development of the right IoT devices forms a big challenge.

The second challenge we are seeing comes down to the whole point of the IoT: to collect these devices so that you do something meaningful in regards to the data. So managing this connectivity across multiple networks could be traced or cellular, or it could be low power wide area, and so on. Again, such variation emerges as a big hurdle.

The third challenge, which we hear of a lot, is in managing the life cycle of the device and securing the device with the right identity—that’s another big challenge, particularly at the scale at which the volumes are growing.

And for the fourth and final challenge, remember that all of the above are means to obtaining data, so that the relevant business outcomes can be achieved. So, we need to make sure we have the right measures to handle and utilise all the data, and altogether implement it throughout the layers to visualise drives and business outcomes with some analytics.

So these are the four main challenges in place as we see the IoT becoming more prevalent, and as we talk with customers about it.

 

SH: With these challenges in mind, what has Arm learned and what have they put to action accordingly?

HM: It’s after having conversations with customers that we realised that there is a need for a new offering in the IoT; and so, given our heredity in the IP area, we felt that we needed to approach the matter from a chip-to-cloud perspective—which is reflected in our combination of the Mbed OS and the Pelion platform.

If you think about solving the said problem of developing the devices, that's where the standardisation of the operating system makes sense, so that the upper layer developers can focus on writing to a standard interface. Consider the transformation that happened in the mobile space 12 years back, which meant that more standard OSs came into play. Mbed OS provides a similar offering, but in a different space.

On the connectivity side, it’s about seamlessly managing these connections across multiple network providers around the globe. The required devices are manufactured in one place, assembled in a different place, and ultimately distributed to operate in many geographic regions. Because of this, we acquired a company called Stream, which has now brought into the Pelion platform our solution to the above challenge: Pelion Connectivity Management.

From there, we ultimately made an acquisition in August 2018 called Treasure Data, which focuses on solving the data problems at scale, and providing vertical solutions in various markets.

All of this came together during the middle of last year. So to confirm, we launched, as a combination, an open-source Mbed operating system and a commercial offering, called Pelion, to support the main capabilities. And that's the history. As we brought this into the market, we looked at what some of the key verticals are that we wanted to focus on. Among utilities were connective spaces, transportation, and logistics.

And over the last few years, we’ve made a lot of progress, such as the managing of more than 30 petabytes of customer data. We now move more than 55 terabytes of data a month from these devices through our network.

 

SH: Could you tell me more about Arm’s work in utilities?

HM: As we went through the relevant acquisitions, we could see that the utilities market is continuing to go through a lot of digital transformation.

There are a lot of opportunities there, given the new smart meters, the advanced meter infrastructures, and the new software that's coming out. It's bringing a lot of automation to the utilities, allowing them to do a lot of remote management.

And as the utilities market becomes more connected, security is becoming very important in regards to, not only the smart meters, but also the data movement from the meters to the backend. When properly implemented, this is enabling utilities to achieve better customer service, drive better discounts, and altogether understand the data patterns better by collecting data at a higher frequency. Plus, thanks to technologies like eSIM, which—to give users a better rate—are able to switch the mobile network operator of the cellular provider, developers now don't have to make such decisions so early on in the building or deployment of the smart meter.

These are some of the opportunities that we are seeing. Obviously, given the transformation that they're going through, there are, again, challenges: security first and foremost. As these devices and meters are becoming increasingly connected, we see more vulnerabilities emerge, and this calls for updating the firmware to make sure that the vulnerabilities are fixed. This ability to securely update the firmware, both at the right scale and as frequently as needed, is a big challenge.

Therefore, the provisioning of smart meters has to become more automated, such as in inputting the right identities and ensuring that the smart meter can connect to the backend. So ensuring such automation is another challenge.

Another thing to bear in mind is that the utilities simply have small IT shops. Their interests lie more in the question of how they can serve their customers better from a distribution chain standpoint. So they ask us to provide an end-to-end solution: they don’t want us to just give them an IoT platform and tell them to work with a utility software vendor or a smart meter vendor.

That is one of the main reasons that we are partnering with EDMI, who are one of the largest utility vendors in the world, based out of Singapore, and part of a Japanese conglomerate called Osaki. Having shipped millions of meters over a long period of time, they have a lot of domain knowledge and customer interactions in the utilities space.

This partnership, particularly in terms of what it gives to the end customers, is a single solution that enables them to solve the challenges we have talked about. And while they do have their own frameworks to build this meter infrastructure, remember that as new regulations continue to come in, new obstacles come in, too. So EDMI started asking, “Should we continue to invest in this lower level foundational infrastructure, or should we focus on what matters to the utility industry—such as our actual physical meter building and so on—and leverage Arm, Mbed OS and the Pelion platform to solve the challenges that our customers are asking us to tackle?”

That is where the value comes in for EDMI: our partnership with them allows them to focus on that utility-specific stuff and leverage Mbed OS, Pelion Device Management and Connectivity Management to accelerate their ability to meet the new requirements that come from regulations and customer use cases: consider some of the key values, such as security, including public key infrastructure and certificate-based security.

So to wrap it up, there's a lot of movement in the utilities space from a regulations and security standpoint. This firm combination of a well-known utility vendor like EDMI, and their building on top of a strong platform like Arm, Mbed OS and Pelion platform, grants our end customers’ utilities a means to go through their digital transformation journey much faster—leaving consumers to enjoy the benefits.

 

SH: Off the back of that, could you name any particularly big benefits that customers and developers have in store, following Arm and EDMI's partnership?

HM: One of the approaches that's happening in the industry relates to the increase in machine learning at the edge: consider the ability that this brings about in the understanding of utility customer usage patterns—in order for utilities to identify, in real time, what the readings are of a particular house, small region, or community.

So, from a developer standpoint, machine learning models form one big area, particularly in terms of developers’ interest in understanding the utility space and doubling up on their relevant models to run on the said edge computing environment.

Accordingly, and as mentioned, utilities now have the ability to do remote management; and so, using some of our edge technology, they are now able to aggregate the data locally, such as in an apartment complex that has multiple smart meters for each home. They can even detect power theft, to name one example.

That's one area where we see a lot of scope: this opportunity for developers to contribute, as machine learning becomes more mainstream.

 

SH: On a closing note, what are your thoughts on IoT security at large, particularly in view of how we can be best prepared?

HM: We've talked about how this can be a big problem where security in the IoT has to be a pivotal area that everyone should be concerned about. This is a new area that's exposing a lot of points of concern as more of smart devices get connected. It's very important that you, as an end customer—or otherwise as any software provider or hardware provider who is thinking of offering something in this space—prioritise security.

That's one of the reasons why we have launched this technology called Platform Security Architecture (PSA), and recently announced certification classes, called PSA certified: it’s because we want to offer comfort to our partners and end users. When they get a piece of silicon, and when they get a piece of software, the technology adheres to some level of compliance with the certification.

We want to make security fundamental to how someone thinks about IoT. As our surveys indicate, I don't think that everyone is thinking of security first, particularly from an IoT standpoint—so we want to change that mentality and make it easier for customers to adopt it.

 


Many thanks to Himagiri Mukkamala for providing his thoughts on Arm’s IoT solutions in the utilities space. Utilities are one example of the countless industries that need to be prepared for our increasingly connected world; we look forward to seeing smart meters and AMIs at large become more efficient, data-driven and secure, especially following Arm’s partnership with EDMI.

 

For more information on Arm, read our product piece on its cloud infrastructure solution, Neoverse N1, and why not check out our news piece on where it fits in with the U.S. trade ban.

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