May was a good month for fledgling IoT company Temboo, a privately-held 25-person start-up based in New York City. In the same month in which Samsung announced that its ARTIK range of developer boards would come with Temboo’s code pre-installed, Qualcomm too said that it would incorporate support for Temboo into its new range of WiFi chip designs. This complements the company’s existing partnerships with hardware makers Texas Instruments and Arduino.
Temboo considers itself a software stack provider for the IoT, aiming to offer a way for enterprises and developers to build IoT systems. By providing tools and thus ‘taking care’ of some of the development elements so that developers don’t have to start from scratch it reduces the coding effort. However, Temboo is rather more than a software tools supplier. Crucially for IoT solutions, it also offers to maintain and run applications once they are developed.
The target market is described as enterprises that have products which could be connected but aren’t; this includes products which could be more effectively managed by being connected. It cites several examples, including a boiler manufacturer (and a building management system provider) who want to monitor products remotely, an ‘explosion detection system’ monitor for a bottling plant, and a cooking oil recycling company that wanted to know when waste tanks were full to optimise collection runs.
Its website has lots of videos demonstrating use cases, illustrating how easy it is to use its tools, and featuring discussions with some of the great and the good of the IoT, including Arduino founder Tom Igoe (who may just be the nearest thing there is to an IoT celebrity).
In fact, the ‘hotness’ of this area is illustrated by the fact that Temboo hasn’t yet had to do any outbound marketing or prioritisation of customers, because it has focused on those hardware suppliers who have come to it. All have sought to have Temboo’s code bundled with and embedded in their hardware.
Temboo claims that it is more flexible than competitors. Other providers, it says, have specific hardware and/or software, or hosting services, which customers are required to use. It defines itself as a ‘platform of platforms’, bringing together service offerings, SDKs and libraries to enable solutions without being tied to its own specific services.
It points to its successes in working with Microsoft Power BI business intelligence solution, which supports the visualization of Temboo data streams, and with Amazon; the latter chose Temboo as one of a number of partners for its Cloud Drive so that SDKs were available at the service’s launch.
Thus, Temboo does not store data in its own cloud but in someone else’s instead; it doesn’t do data storage or tie its customers to a particular provider. But customers can use its ‘choreos’ – pre-defined processes which can be run in the cloud but are triggered by lightweight code stored on the device.
There are some 2000 pre-defined processes already built, and they can be triggered by five lines of code. Customers can create their own processes as well as using the pre-defined ones.
This ability to run a process from lightweight, device-resident code is really Temboo’s secret sauce. Almost as important is the capability to generate the lightweight code from its web-based user interface, which can then be downloaded and installed or edited further.
This means that it is possible to create a “trigger” on to a device, and to leave this in place even if the process that it triggers is updated or changed. Capability can thus be added virtually to hardware that is already deployed without having to touch it.
Temboo presents this as part of the virtualisation of code, because the process is resident in the cloud rather than on the device. It opens up new ways to program, and allows dumber hardware (less processing power, less memory) to be used on the internet. It is hardware and service agnostic, and is better aligned to the way that developers already work, so that they have to learn less in order to create IoT systems.
The business model is a relatively straightforward Software as a Service one, with a free account for trials and limited usage and three commercial tiers depending on the number of processes invoked.
The company’s big break came two years ago, when Arduino introduced the Yún boards. It was looking for an IoT programming solution that could be used on this hardware, which included a chip with a preinstalled lightweight Linux OS and was capable of connecting to the internet via Ethernet or WiFi, but did not have much on-board memory. Arduino identified Temboo as a solution; it was also attracted by the software’s ability to filter API responses in the return direction, since conventional APIs are not appropriate for low-power low-memory devices.
For example, a connected device might only need to ‘know’ the likely maximum temperature in its neighbourhood for the next few hours, but the API response would be to provide a comprehensive weather forecast. Arduino subsequently added support for Temboo to earlier boards like the Uno.
So where next for Temboo? Despite its self-description as an enterprise solutions provider, Temboo primarily targets the hardware suppliers and software developers who themselves supply to enterprises. It does have a few notable enterprise clients, including the UK food chain Eat and an un-named US financial institution. However, the use cases it describes are, at scale, classic systems integrator projects. It seems unlikely that any major enterprise is going to entrust mission-critical business processes to a 25-person start-up.
So Temboo is more relevant as an environment in which to create prototypes and proofs of concept. This is a fluid domain, extending from Citizen Science and Maker hobbyists through start-ups to pilots, ‘intrapreneurs’ and in-house R&D departments. It is attracting a lot of interest and investment at present, as the recent tie-up between ARM and IBM to offer a development kit illustrated. Indeed, IBM’s efforts in this area, with Bluemix and Node-Red, bear the closest resemblance to what Temboo is doing, even though the two companies could not be more different.
There is also some similarity with what waylay is trying to do as an IFTTT-like layer for the IoT. This area is by no means saturated, and Temboo has a number of advantages which can give it an edge in this space.
On the other hand, if it genuinely wants to play in at-scale deployments then it needs to turn itself into a set of components that can be picked up by the big boys with the brand credibility, body weight and bid capability. Acquisition by these is a possible outcome, or inserting itself into the SI supply chain as a trusted component.
Either way it means making itself more SI-friendly, and emphasising the tool dimension at the expense of the platform aspects. Not as groovy or as grand, but perhaps a more sustainable future.