IBM Research is working on delivering a middleware system that will enable users to tap into the data on mobile devices to create a virtually unlimited pool of data and provide essentially infinite access to the Internet, the company said.
Stefan Schoenauer, a researcher at the companys Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., said IBM Research, as part of the companys IBM Extreme Blue program, has developed a prototype of a data-sharing middleware platform for mobile devices that will enable heterogeneous devices, regardless of their operating systems or hardware, to access the network via various communication modes, including device-to-device direct communications.
The middleware platform, code-named Infinity, will allow users to use mobile devices to search and analyze limitless amounts of data that was previously inaccessible, Schoenauer said. In addition, the system has built-in security and privacy features that allow users to control authorized access levels.
Schoenauer is the lead researcher mentoring the core team that came up with the Infinity project. What prompted the Infinity project was a great big “what if,” Schoenauer said: What if all the information stored in devices like cell phones, PDAs, RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips and USB sticks could be accessed much the way Web sites are today, or even more easily?
The possibilities for new applications would be infinite, the IBM team decided, hence the code name for the project.
Indeed, IBMs research team, which has a group of undergraduate engineering students and an MBA student at its core, proposed that Infinity would significantly transform the Internet by allowing access to the worlds highly distributed data sources. Moreover, the technology marks a critical first step toward exploring how integration in mobile networks could precipitate the growth of a new information marketplace, IBM said.
IBM officials said they believe Infinity will provide a middleware framework for linking heterogeneous mobile devices into real-time, mobile, ad hoc networks that can process queries and share data. Riding the wave of the rapidly increasing number of mobile phones, PDAs and other portable computing devices, Infinity could help to shift the Internet from a network of pages to a network of data sources, IBM said.
“We came up with this broad vision that mobile devices have a lot of capacity and [thought about] what we could do with all the data on these devices,” Schoenauer said. “We have all this data in a lot of different formats, and its the middlewares job to translate those different formats,” he added.
IBMs prototype is notable because as yet there is no standard way to share data between diverse mobile devices directly in ad hoc networks. And because the variety of mobile operating systems offers so many different programming environments and interfaces, applications have to be custom-developed for each platform. The vast range of data types, database software and connection hardware involved make it difficult to achieve broad-spectrum mobile device integration. Infinity technology will improve cross-platform integration and communication for mobile applications, and will enable application developers to more easily develop applications for a variety of mobile devices, IBM said.
So far, IBM has tested Infinity using a variety of devices, including Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, various PDAs and a series of cell phones, “and we got them all to work together. But we havent tried it out on all possible platforms yet,” Schoenauer said.
Possible applications that could be built on the Infinity middleware platform include traffic-monitoring, disaster recovery and basic data search applications, Schoenauer said.
In a traffic-monitoring scenario, cell phones could get data by directly contacting other mobile devices that are along the route a driver is planning to take. Data would be relayed from mobile devices to mobile devices directly via Bluetooth or GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). In a disaster recovery scenario, where cell phone towers might be damaged, Infinity would allow for direct communications between cell phones.
Meanwhile, in an enterprise scenario, the platforms privacy and security features stand out. For instance, clients data can only be shared with a specific units members via phone-to-phone direct communications. Or in a hospital scenario, patients information could be shared with authorized doctors, nurses and care providers only.
“This is something the enterprise needs and will use,” said Theresa Lanowitz, founder of Voke Media, in Minden, Nev. “However, this type of technology should go well beyond mobile. Mobile is an important and critical component, but the emphasis should really be on connecting all devices, not just mobile. The middleware should be designed to work with device software, otherwise known as embedded software.”
Lanowitz added, “There are countless devices roaming the enterprise [not all mobile]. Having the ability to connect these devices, which are often seen as rogue, to the network via a variety of communication modes is the firs step in really completing the enterprise supply chain.”
Mark Dean, an IBM Fellow and vice president of the Almaden Research Center, said of technology developed as part of the Extreme Blue program, “Its usually something we intend to put into the market quickly.” Indeed, Dean said the programs goal is to solve “real-world” problems by creating technology, then “ship it or provide it as a service quickly.”
Dean said he sees a number of potential uses for Infinity, from Web 2.0 scenarios to use in IBMs core middleware platform. “The Infinity project could yield opportunities for us in WebSphere,” he said. “I could see us putting the Infinity capabilities to use to enable mobile devices and game consoles to access information accessible to particular devices.”
However, “youd have to be able to selectively enable access” to certain information on the devices, he said, something that IBM does with the privacy and security technology that is being integrated into Infinity. That technology includes IBMs Hippocratic Database technology, which takes consumer privacy into account in the way it stores and retrieves information, Schoenauer said.
“The enterprise is still largely disjointed and disconnected,” Lanowitz said. “The ability to tie all applications, i.e. traditional IT, back office, device [and] embedded software, some of which are mobile, is truly a need that has not been conquered.”
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