While it will be some time until all our cars and fridges are connected to the Internet of Things, a software-consulting firm, Solution Family wants to connect much bigger machines to the Internet. With expertise that draws on the firm’s roots in embedded computing and machine-to-machine communication, the team at Solution Family turned to DreamFactory to enable its customers to connect all sorts of industrial assets to the cloud, so that sophisticated applications can monitor and control them.
To maximize the market appeal, Solution Family wants to make it easy for applications experts to leverage their existing development skills and integrate a wide array of machines, motors and sensors with expert systems — without any knowledge of the low-level drivers and machine code that used to be essential skills for this kind of programming.
Applying Open Standards to the Internet of Things
The Industrial Internet of Things is a natural evolution for Solution Family. Its products are already used in industrial settings such as machine tool control, building automation, security and telematics. CEO Nat Frampton sees emerging applications for its products, such as a building management company that wants to provide facilities managers with real-time metrics and alerts on their mobile phones about energy usage and machine failures in a particular building.
“We think it needs to be much easier to connect machinery and sensors to the Internet, and web standards and well-defined interfaces have always won out over closed, proprietary approaches. Open standards will increase the size of the potential market, drive innovation, and enable our customers to get their solutions to market faster.” says Frampton.
The Solution Family software consists of two modules: an application platform called Solution Engine® that runs on anything from an embedded device to a server and can talk to objects such as machines and motors; and Solution Builder®, which connects to the Solution Engine and enables rules, logic and behaviors that control what the object should do when specific conditions occur. Together, Solution Engine and Solution Builder can be adapted to a wide variety of vertical market applications and address almost any software/hardware-integrated system. This approach puts powerful tools to monitor and control anything from a small motor to an industrial system in the hands of any developer.
“Intelligent Systems development has always been viewed as a messy job for hard-core software engineers. Low-level programming, quirky and arcane driver protocols, ugly contracts, and months of delays have typically been the norm. We’ve made all this go away and revolutionized the process for embedded development. This means that experts who already understand the capabilities and functional characteristics of industrial hardware like motors and control systems can now easily develop applications that can communicate with it, control it, and integrate it with other systems—all via the cloud,” says Chris Tacke, CTO of Solution Family.
Solution Family needed a secure and efficient way to connect industrial infrastructure to a backend database that could be hosted anywhere. They needed support for a wide variety of SQL and NoSQL data sources depending on customer needs. The system needed flexible hosting options for public clouds, private clouds, and traditional data centers.
The REST-based DreamFactory Services Platform connects IP-based smart devices with sophisticated cloud-based services. Since DSP is licensed as open-source and supports popular web standards, it can be adapted to a wide range of industrial applications that, until now, have been dominated by large companies that market closed, proprietary software.
“We think open standards are the best way to add industrial assets to the Internet of Things, so that our customers can develop advanced applications that talk to these assets” Nat Frampton, CEO, Solution Family.
Beyond development efficiency, the REST API streamlines deployment of the Solutions Family app for any given application by abstracting the application layer from the cloud layer. This means a Solutions Family customer can install the application in the cloud of their choice or within their own data centers. Customers can control where the data gets published in the cloud and how this data is used by their existing systems for monitoring and alerts.
The DreamFactory Services Platform also provides a built-in MySQL database that can be used for design, development and testing. The production system can use this database or a hosted cloud database depending on customer needs. Solution Family has a Rackspace Cloud Server for design prototyping and customer demonstrations. Applications can be moved between servers for easy deployment. This system provides complete flexibility and relieves Solution Family of the need to host customer data.
Connects Solution Engine to a wide variety of cloud services via a REST API
Provides an easy to use Admin Console to configure the backend platform
Provides application portability from one cloud to another
Supports high-security environments that require private clouds
Enables the development of mobile apps with popular HTML5 frameworks
Enables development of Native Mobile applications on iOS, Android, and Windows
“DreamFactory lets us create, collect, aggregate and cloud-publish data from any device or machine, with complete flexibility to read and write to any cloud, and to connect that data with back-end cloud services. The DreamFactory Services Platform REST API saves us having to develop custom code to communicate with cloud services or configure back-end databases.” Chris Tacke, CTO, Solution Family.
Solution Family produces software development tools that make it easier for companies to create a wide range of applications. From monitoring sensors, to controlling factories, to maintaining vehicle fleets—all through the cloud.