The deployment by Cradlepoint and channel partner KORE Wireless on Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central platform also shows that the IoT market has strong potential at its lower ends.
The Internet of Things [IoT] market is typically couched as a large enterprise market, with deployments so complex that no one vendor can handle all aspects of a solution. There is some historical justification for this. Networking edge vendor Cradlepoint is emphasizing that since Microsoft introduced its Azure IoT Central platform, the IoT market has the potential to change fundamentally. Their case study involves their use of that platform, together with channel partner KORE Wireless, to provide a solution for Sagegreenlife.
Sagegreenlife is a 10 year-old Chicago company that makes living walls. All use their trademarked Biotile, a brick that holds 20 plants and has a growth medium inside.
“They come in two categories,” said Harry Eschel, SVP of Product Development at Sagegreenlife. “One is custom walls, which can be built into any shape or size for the interior or exterior of a building, and are fed by an irrigation system and have a track lighting system. The second type is more like furniture.”
Sagegreenlife’s Verdanta wall is one of this second type. A double-sided portable living wall, it contains more than 240 plants, but takes up only a few square feet of floor space, and includes a self-watering tank and options for lighting.
“They are completely self-contained, with no water line or drain,” Eschel said. “This partnership is focused on the Verdanta line.”
Eschel said that Sagegreenlife has customers in almost every indoor space, including hospitality, restaurants, and wellness and senior citizen centres.
“They absorb sound and create a quiet space,” he said. “They also provide biophilia, the demonstration that human wellness is improved by contact to nature.”
Sagegreenlife distributes their offerings through both a small direct sales team and through office furniture solutions provider Steelcase.
The relationship with Cradlepoint developed because of the need for a 4G solution for a specific type of customer deployment.
“The initial need was that 4G connectivity because enterprise customers won’t let them use the customer network,” said Ken Hosac, VP of IoT Strategy and Business Development at Cradlepoint. “It’s a bring-your-own network situation. The ability to deliver a full IoT capability was unexpected by Sagegreenlife. They found that instead of a 12 month project, they could do this in a couple of days.”
The key here was the ability to leverage Microsoft’s Azure IoT Central to build the broader IoT solution, using Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Edge Connector for Azure IoT Central. It is available to active subscribers of the Cradlepoint NetCloud Service
“They called us about a 4G solution, and we told them about the Microsoft relationship,” Hosac said. “The idea behind IoT Central is to make the IoT deployment as easy as a small business creating a website. That’s a good fit for a company with Sagegreenlife, which is good at plants, and not with IoT management portals.”
“I developed an application in seven hours that could manage 45,000 kiosks, and realized how simple it is,” Hosac said. “It’s easy to scale this into the partner channel. It’s not coding. It’s like developing a website. You go to a portal, upload your logo, input a little information about yourself, and publish it.”
The implementation was done by Cradlepoint channel partner KORE Wireless, an IT provider with a global presence and a strong IoT focus. They were also Sagegreenlife’s regular channel partner for their wireless gear.
“KORE became a Microsoft partner when Azure IoT Central became available, so they picked up the Azure IoT Central side, and could provide a one-stop shop deployment,” Hosac stated.
The Internet of Things functionality is primarily around detecting anomalies that would cause problems with the installed systems.
“With Verdanta products, the customers also purchase maintenance agreements,” Eschel said. “The genesis of the IoT role was to watch the irrigation system. Azure would provide alerts of exceptions when an anomaly is detected on a system.”
Eschel emphasized that the system is simple for Sagegreenlife to manage.
“I needed something that could be deployed in a simple and consistent manner,” he said. “We operate this without a single IT person. I think that’s petty impressive.”
The Sagegreenlife case study has several lessons for Cradlepoint channel partners and for IoT channel deployments generally.
“IoT started out in the realm of large projects and systems integrators, not this kind of smaller deployment,” Hosac said. “This conveys that IoT isn’t always complex, and that it’s something that can be done through two-tier distribution.”
The skills necessary for success in this type of IoT solution are often not deep technical awareness, but understanding the particular use case well.
“An IoT application has a lot of specific things to consider, like details on the customer, who the property manager is, and who you call if you have to get in after hours,” Hosac noted. “It’s addressing these things that’s most of the work – not writing code.”
Partners are taking notice of the opportunity.
“At our partner conference in San Diego last April, Microsoft joined us and hosted a technical workshop where twelve partners signed up,” Hosac said. “There’s interest in getting this going.
“We think this will be strategic for both Cradlepoint and our partners,” Hosac concluded. “Development of this kind of application with Azure IoT Central also creates stickiness for the partner.”