He is officially called the “Messaging Community Lead” for IBM’s WebSphere message queue (MQ) architecture, which is a title that grants some modicum of honor without claiming too much authority. Andy Piper has become IBM’s point man for the concept of a planet enmeshed in billions, perhaps trillions, of signal-sending, communicating devices. The case may be made that anything that can be “on” could be made to send a signal on a network – perhaps something as simple as “on” itself, periodically. The possibilities for a world where the operating status of any electronic device may be measured from any point on the globe, are astounding.
How do we ensure such a world doesn’t become infinitely more chaotic than it already is? Have the architects of MQTT protocol considered whether it would be feasible to apply today’s malicious use models for Web technologies to an Internet of Things? What, if anything, is being done to safeguard against a plethora of “thing-in-the-middle” attacks, where for instance, devices that are not shipping crates full of valuable merchandise identify themselves as such? ReadWriteWeb discussed these broader topics at length with IBM’s Andy Piper.
Two weeks ago, IBM and its development partner Eurotech formally submitted Message Queue Telemetry Transport protocol to the Eclipse Foundation open source group. It’s being called “the” Internet of Things (IoT) protocol, but in fairness it’s only one candidate. It would serve as the communications mechanism for devices whose size may scale down to the very small level, with negligible power and transmission radius of only a few feet.
A trillion heartbeats
One example application already in the field, Piper told RWW, is in pacemakers. Tiny transmitters inside pacemakers communicate using MQTT with message queue brokers at their patients’ bedsides. Those brokers then communicate with upstream servers using more conventional, sophisticated protocols such as WebSphere MQ.
“Look, this is engineered for a constrained environment,” Piper emphasized. “But because of that, [these devices] are actually extremely efficient at doing things like conserving battery, and using very low bandwidth. So [MQTT] is actually a fairly sensible protocol for both the machine-to-machine (M2M) space that we’re addressing with the Eclipse announcement, and also the mobile explosion as well. All these devices need to be connected.”
Most protocols submitted by corporations to organizations for adoption as universal standards have some direct tie-in to those corporations, and MQTT is no exception. Although the APIs for anyone to incorporate MQTT into their own MQs are already published, WebSphere MQ has an early advantage.
This leads to what distinguishes the interconnection protocol for MQTT from HTTP and the Web as we’ve come to understand it. HTTP is end-to-end; all endpoints are addressable there on a universal map. MQTT, by stark contrast, is only at the outer shell. It communicates with so-calledbrokers using a wire protocol – literally a pattern of bits, as opposed to a componentized packet with a header and a container. Those brokers then communicate upstream using today’s protocols, HTTP among them.
“It’s not as such about replacing the Web; it’s about enabling devices to talk to the Web,” says Piper. “And these devices are unlikely to have user interfaces; they’re really about just collecting data.”
More info here.